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What your flowers really say on Valentine's Day

Friday - 2/8/2013, 10:47am  ET

roses400.jpg
If you're thinking about a gift of roses, use caution in choosing the color. Each color has a special meaning. Yellow roses mean 'let's just be friends.' (Thinkstock)

Don't buy yellow roses

Mike McGrath, WTOP's garden editor

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike will answer all your lawn and garden questions live and in person from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday Feb. 9, at the Community Home Show at the Universities at Shady Grove. Information and directions.

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Men: Are you prepared to present proper posies? Yellow roses might make for a blue evening

Thursday is Valentine's Day. And if you didn't already know that, this is probably the most helpful garden tip you'll get from me this season.

Now, if you're thinking about a gift of roses, use caution in choosing the color. In the Victorian secret language known as the Floral Code -- in which every flower has a special meaning -- the deep red velvety roses so popular at this time of year actually mean "bashful shame" (which may well be true, but you probably don't want to advertise it).

Peach-colored roses may be even worse, they mean "sympathy". And yellow roses mean "let's just be friends." Yikes! Only a rose in a normal shade of red stands for the passionate love you -- hopefully -- want to convey.

Tulips are the more romantic choice

Valentine's Day is a holiday strongly linked with roses. But roses are not the flower that was most often used to convey love in Victorian Floral Code, where flowers speak louder than words.

Instead, tulips are a lover's true clandestine clue. Specifically, pink tulips are a straightforward declaration of love, yellow tulips signify that you are hopelessly in love and red tulips stand for perfect love.

And if you give potted tulips instead of cut flowers, you can replant the bulbs this fall for a chance at an eternal declaration of love.

The passionate orchid that's also easy care

When it comes to a gift of romantic flowers, I always felt that orchids had roses beat hands-down in the passion department. Some orchids are so over the top they should come with an R rating.

And not all orchids are finicky house plants. In fact, the Phalenopsis (or 'moth orchid') is very easy care. And the plants can stay in bloom for a ridiculously long time, at least three months, maybe longer, if you choose your specific specimen wisely.

Pick a plant with just a few open flowers and lots of unopened buds on the lower part of the stem, and new flowers should continue to open until mid-summer. On the other hand, take a pass on orchids that have few to no buds left on the stem, those posies are long past their prime.

Yo! What's more romantic than Philly in March?

Looking for something really "Brilliant" to give your sweetie for Valentine's Day? How about a trip to the famed Philadelphia International Flower Show, whose theme this year is "brilliant" -- as in the exclamation used to describe a way-over-the- top style of British gardening.

The largest, grandest and longest-running in the world, the Philly Flower show runs March 2 to March 10 and offers 10 acres of major exhibits that redefine breathtaking, and it's an easy Amtrak ride from D.C. And if you join the presenting organization, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, you'll get tickets to the show at less than list price if you buy a three- or four person membership, plus use of the exclusive members lounge at the show (free coffee, tea and nice place to sit down for a bit) and discounts at selected vendors in the marketplace area.

For Show details, visit www.theflowershow.com. And here's a direct link to the membership page. Check out the 'household' memberships -- the ones for three and four people are the really super deals.

Oh, and if you want to double up on your fun, I'll give my annual lecture at the show at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6. The lectures are free with Flower Show admission.

Turn cut roses into live landscape plants

Giving cut roses this Valentine's Day? Consider turning some of those expensive bouquet blooms into living shrubs in your landscape. Yes, you can. Roses are one of the easiest plants to propagate. Now to do this, you must remove the actual flowers promptly. But they'll still put on a show. Here's how:

  • After you present the un-altered bouquet on Thursday, pull out a pair of pruners and quickly cut the flowers off, leaving a good couple inches of stem attached to each bloom.
  • Immediately position these now-short stem specimens in a cut glass bowl filled with marbles and water.
  • Take the de-flowered stems, cut 2 inches off the bottom of each one and remove all the leaves from the bottom half of each cane.
  • Gently insert the stripped bottoms of the canes into a nice big pot with good drainage holes that you've filled with soil-free mix (available at any good garden center).
  • Make sure one or two little 'buds' are below the soil line on each cane, and make sure that the soil mix is totally saturated with clean water.
  • Drape a clear plastic bag over top and position the whole shebang where it gets bright, but indirect light.
  • Lift the cover and mist the plants every morning. Keep the mix damp but not sopping wet.
  • When new growth appears on the canes, remove the plastic, but keep misting daily.
  • Plant each cane individually outside (in areas that get good morning sun and airflow) between April 15 and the end of June.

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