Why do some cut flowers and bouquets seem to die immediately? How can you prolong them once you get them home in a vase?—Grand Floral Charade

I have the same problem, Floral—my blooms are fine in the grocery store, but as soon as I get them home and take the bag off my head, they wither and die, often with an audible "sad trombone" audio cue.

Of course, if you're a normal person—i.e., one who doesn't sour milk with a single glance—there are things you can do (or not do) to keep your cut flowers alive a bit longer.

The doomed battle to keep cut flowers alive is essentially a matter of keeping them from drying out for as long as possible. If these death-wish blooms are from your own garden, you're most likely making the mistake of cutting them in the heat of the day, when live flowers are already at their driest.

Instead, why not cut them first thing in the morning, when they're still plump with the night's moisture? They'll last a lot longer, and you'll get to experience a flower garden at dawn, when the dew still lingers on the rose and you can indulge in a sun-kissed dance with the fairy folk, you fucking hippie.

If you're the more prosaic type, for whom Dawn is a truck-stop waitress and flowers are things you buy at Safeway to patch up arguments about blond hairs in the back seat, your flowers should have a head start: They will have been cut at the appropriate time of day by stogie-chomping pros and kept under 50 degrees F (this is also good advice for corpses) up to the moment of purchase.

The condition of the cut stem is key. A cut flower with a dried-out stem is like a headless chicken with a scabbed-over windpipe: not long for this world. Luckily, in the case of flowers (or exceptionally long-necked chickens), you can cut off the dried-out portion. This reopens the tiny tubes through which the flower sucks up water. Cutting the stem at an angle, slitting the end longitudinally, and even (if the stem is tough and woody) pounding it with a mallet are all ways to improve its water-sucking ability.

As to the water itself, you can add a few drops of food coloring to make the blooms pretty, or a few drops of bleach to make them less stinky. Some folks say a spoonful of sugar in the water makes it more nourishing for the plant, but that, frankly, sounds like bullshit to me.