The most popular small blooms include lily of the valley (shown), snowdrop, grape hyacinth, scilla, crocus, and some varieties of narcissus. Snowdrops begin pushing up as early as February (hence their name), as do crocuses; the rest typically bloom between March and May.
Cutting prematurely may result in a bud that never opens, says Meredith Waga Perez, owner of Belle Fleur, a floral-design shop in New York City. Wait until buds are in partial or almost full bloom.
Cut stems in bunches and at an angle so there’s lots of surface area for absorbing water. Use a very sharp paring knife or scissors. Dull blades will crush the delicate stem fibers, making it hard for the flowers to take in water.
Sure, bud vases work, but enlist unexpected containers: cordial glasses, tall espresso or silver mint-julep cups, or creamers. For wide, sturdy blossoms with thicker stems, like grape hyacinths, consider a ramekin or a sugar dish.
For a quiet, sweet statement, try a single arrangement of three or four stems. For a bigger one, put thick clusters of a single bloom (such as lily of the valley) in mismatched containers and group them on a mantel or a side table.
Keep flowers out of the sun and away from heat sources.
Refill the vase with fresh water every two to three days, washing it thoroughly each time. Trim stems at least once.
Tulips and daffodils come in dozens of varieties; ranunculus (shown, second from left) and poppies (shown, bottom) run the rainbow gamut. Also look for anemones (shown, top red flower), irises, and amaryllis. All bloom sometime between March and July.
Cut stems at an angle with sharp flower clippers or a knife. For poppies, use a lighter or a match (Perez uses a flat iron) to gently singe the cut ends. This keeps sap inside but allows for water absorption.
Some of these flowers emit a sappy substance (in poppies, it is toxic and can kill other flowers). Let the sap drain by putting flowers in water separately overnight before arranging.
For a dense, upright arrangement, cut stems so the blossoms are about three inches from the top of the vase. Or fasten flowers loosely with a ribbon or a twist tie and lean them to one side in an extra-wide-mouthed vase.
Poppies’ curling stems rule out structured arrangements. Put a bunch in a tall vase for a loose, extravagant look, or place two or three stems in a bottle or a decanter.
Tulips can grow after they’re cut, changing shape; trim them vigilantly.
Tall stems have more leaves, which decompose and pollute the water; change it at least every three days. Alejandro Saralegui, a landscape designer in Wainscott, New York, uses Floralife Crystal Clear, a citric acid formula, to extend the life of blooms.
Fruit trees bear flowers ranging from pure white to hot pinkish red. Some of the most popular are cherry (shown, far left), quince (shown, center), and apple (shown, right). Also look for crab apple, plum, and, for a jolt of yellow, the nonfruiting forsythia bush.
Start tall. Height is an advantage of branches; you can always trim as you go.
Cut branches on a diagonal (if they’re thick, use pruning shears or shrub pruners). Then split each one up from the bottom about an inch, or use a vegetable peeler to peel the bark off the bottom two inches. Don’t mash them; splitting is less traumatic and allows just as much water in.
Mixing varieties is fine, says Saralegui, “but keep things fairly symmetrical―short cherry blossoms with tall dogwood branches will just look strange.”
Branch arrangements can be top-heavy. Make sure your container is sturdy enough to resist tipping. For more stability and a wider arrangement, use a shorter, broader vessel.
Tepid water is best―cold water delays branches’ already slow blooming. Murk and bacteria accumulate much faster with branches than with stems, so check the water daily (if you use an opaque vase and can’t assess the water, simply expect a shorter life span).
Trim branches every few days, splitting or shaving as you go.
As with long stems, a tablespoon or a capful of a good floral food helps prolong the spectacle. You can prune out wilted blossoms and adjust your arrangement to suit its new, sparser shape.