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9 Easy Steps to Arrange Flowers Like a Pro

It’s festive, fun and will save you money once you know the basics

spinner image woman watching a tutorial and arranging flowers
Alistair Berg/Getty Images

​Flowers make a dinner party festive, provide a burst of color in a bedroom and brighten spaces and moods.​

But there’s more to creating a beautiful arrangement — and keeping it looking good — than just sticking flowers in a vase. With a little preparation and by learning some tricks of the trade, you can assemble dazzling floral arrangements using the same techniques the professionals do.

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Before you start cutting and arranging, however, think about where the flowers will be displayed. Is the arrangement for the table at a family brunch or for your fireplace mantel? The answer may affect which flowers and container you choose. Tall vases, for example, may thwart conversation at a table but make a striking statement when placed in a stairwell.​

“The ultimate goal of having flowers is to enjoy them,” says Calvert Crary, executive director at FlowerSchool New York and FlowerSchool Los Angeles. “Doing flowers is a kind of Zen: You prepare the flowers, they pass and you’re done. It’s a constant artistic endeavor.”​

Here are nine simple steps to arranging flowers like a professional.​

1. Select the right flowers

Color is often the starting point for your bouquet. If you’re new to floral arranging, you may want to pick different hues of one color — various yellows, for instance — to create a modern, monochromatic look. Or mix it up, says Daarina Farooq-Jannah, owner and lead floral designer at Blourish in Atlanta, who likes to use a variety of colors that “really makes your flowers pop.”

Crary suggests figuring out what colors you want before choosing the flowers. Using a color wheel, such as the 12-color wheel in his book, Flower School: A Practical Guide to the Art of Flower Arranging, may help you find complementary colors.​

One method is to follow a color range, choosing different flowers in various shades of one color. “If purple is your favorite color, go to the store and buy all the shades of purple flowers you can find,” Crary says. ​​Or you can select flowers in two shades of the same color and mix them with white or cream flowers, or choose seasonal colors like reds for fall or blues for winter, he adds.​

One approach is to match the color of the flowers with the color of the walls or fabric in the place where they’ll be displayed, Crary says.​

You also can choose flowers based on their size. Crary likes to pair flowers of similar shapes, such as tall flowers with other tall flowers, like delphiniums and lilies.

Some people seek out seasonal flowers to support local farms and sustainability — and they may cost less than imported varieties. Other flowers, including roses and orchids, are available year-round at grocery stores, flower markets and other outlets.​

2. Choose a container

The vase you use can make a statement too — and it should match the style of flower. Tall flowers like gladioli, calla lilies and sunflowers belong in tall vases, but you’ll want to use smaller, squat flowers, like ranunculus or a single peony, for low containers. Be creative: Try mason jars or ceramic pitchers for a country-chic look.​

“The container is so important because it dictates what kind of flowers” to use, says Margaret Steed, 89, of Raleigh, North Carolina. “I just put some roses in my breakfast room in varying shades of pink. It’s an oblong rectangular container that fits perfectly on my breakfast table.”​

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3. Gather supplies

Make sure you have everything you need in one place. That may include a vase, garden clippers or scissors, plant food, flowers, greenery, tape and twine.

4. Prepare flowers

Strip stems of dead leaves, wilted petals, thorns and anything that will fall below the water line of your container. That prevents bacteria from forming in the water and helps flowers last longer.​

Cut the stems at an angle 1 to 2 inches from the bottom; this increases the surface area, so the flowers can absorb more water. Measure the flowers against your container and cut them to size. A rule of thumb: Your bouquet should be about one and a half times as tall as the container.​

5. Add water

​Fill the vase with water so the flowers have plenty of hydration. Add plant food, stirring until it dissolves. DIYers can add two tablespoons of vinegar or a quarter teaspoon of bleach (per quart of water) to prevent bacteria and help the flowers last longer.​

6. Create a grid

Farooq-Jannah likes to place green, waterproof floral tape across the top of a container in a tic-tac-toe pattern to hold stems in place. Wrap a layer of tape around the top to secure the ends of the grid tape. Use flowers or greenery to cover any visible tape. No floral tape? Use cellophane tape instead.​

You also can buy an inexpensive floral frog, an insert placed at the bottom of a vase that holds stems in place, or make one from chicken wire. To support heavier stems or branches, use tape, twine or floral wire to bind them to bamboo skewers.​

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7. Arrange biggest blooms first

The showiest blooms will be the focal point of your arrangement. Aim for a gradual progression in stem sizes — from taller stems in the back to shorter stems in the front, Crary advises. Turn the vase as you go — or work on a lazy Susan — to make sure the flowers are evenly distributed.

“I like to pick full-looking flowers,” says Farooq-Jannah, like hydrangeas for their fullness or alstroemeria that have multiple buds on a single stem.​

8. Enhance with secondary flowers

Smaller flowers, such as carnations, sedum or spray roses, complement the primary flowers and help fill out an arrangement. They also can add contrast and diversity to your bouquet in terms of color and shape.​

9. Add finishing touches

​It’s optional, but greenery like eucalyptus or ruscus stems can fill in any holes in your bouquet while adding texture and another color. Get creative with unusual materials, such as branches, berries or purple kale. This is also when you may want to add delicate flowers like baby’s breath.

Once your arrangement is complete, step back to evaluate it from every angle, and then recut or rearrange the stems as needed.

Michele Sokol of Wilmington, North Carolina, likes to include grasses, ivy and fern leaves with fresh flowers. The 78-year-old recently added maple leaves to a small vase of flowers from her yard. “I just like it to look pretty in a vase and not take a lot of time,” she says.

To extend the life of cut flowers, change the water every day and remove any wilted or dry flowers and foliage. Greenery is more durable, so use it to create your next bouquet with fresh flowers.

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