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Garden Plot: Forget the roses, go for orchids this Valentine's Day

Friday - 1/31/2014, 1:26pm  ET

Forget the roses this Valentine's Day and opt for the beautiful Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Meet mike this month!

Saturday, Feb. 22: Green Spring Gardens EcoSavvy Symposium, Greensprings Gardens in Alexandria, Va. Mike will speak at 10:30 a.m. More info: http://www.fairfa xcounty.gov/parks.

Sunday, Feb. 23: Capital Home & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly. Mike will appear at noon and 2 p.m. Details: capitalhomea ndgardenshow.com.

Corn gluten beats crabgrass, if your timing is right

Doug in Fredericksburg writes: "This year I am turning over a new leaf and taking your advice to use corn gluten meal on my lawn instead of chemicals as a pre- emergent weed and feed. When is the best time to apply the corn gluten to my lawn?"

It's a moving target, Doug. The aim is to apply the corn gluten about a week before dormant crabgrass seeds begin to germinate, which occurs when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees (as measured 4 inches deep).

Typically, this is when forsythia and redbuds begin to bloom in our region. It's also when the water in the nearby Chesapeake approaches that same temperature. Last year, this perfect window opened the first week of April, but this year's wretched winter weather will likely change that.

So keep your gluten dry and safe from mice, and keep listening to WTOP. I'll try and give you a good two-week warning.

Does a hard winter bring fewer summer pests?

Joe in Hagerstown has an intriguing question. He writes: "Does our recent stretch of zero temperatures and snow cover mean fewer insect pests this summer?"

Double good news, Joe.

Constant snow cover is excellent for the health of our landscape plants. They do much better under that layer of natural insulation than if they had been exposed to freezing cold without snow. So they will be better able to resist insect attack naturally this season.

And yes, some invasive insects are expected to suffer severe setbacks from the prolonged cold weather, especially the wooly adelgid, which has been decimating area hemlock trees. The adelgid (a white, fuzzy sap-sucking aphid) depends on warm winters to survive, while hemlocks are invigorated by cold ones. So that's a double whammy for the good guys!

The cold weather is also going to make life hard for mosquitoes, as the last generation of the season overwinters in the adult stage waiting for warm weather to resume. The harsher the winter, the fewer survivors.

I knew there had to be something good about these single digits!

Magnolia in bondage (no, not a bad romance novel)

Mike and Charlene in Woodbridge write: "HELP! We planted a magnolia tree and staked it on two sides. About two months ago, the center branch snapped due to the weather. Do we have to start over and stake it right? And how will the remaining branches bloom?"

Well, they should eventually bloom with magnolia flowers unless somebody switched the tags on you, Mike and Charlene. (Be patient. It takes a few seasons for the plants to achieve flowering size.)

But it sounds like you've already gone far enough — and perhaps too far — with the staking. So no more arboreal bondage. Nature doesn't stake trees, and I feel strongly that we shouldn't either. I suggest you remove the existing restraints, rake back any mulch that might be touching the trunk and let the tree recover via Tincture of Time.

There's a trick to picking the right Feb. 14 orchid

John in D.C. claims I have made an error! Gasp!

He writes: "Last year on ‘TOP you recommended a Phalaenopsis (or ‘moth orchid') as a Valentine's Day present, and said that a plant with lots of buds still unopened on the stem might still be showing flowers in July. I took your advice and bought a plant for my wife that only had a couple of open flowers and a lot of buds still on the stem. You were wrong. We had flowers opening up through mid-September! This seems especially impressive, because I generally can't make anything grow! So thank you for your suggestion."

A big man always admits his mistakes, John. So I stand corrected! And remember, men, Valentine's Day roses may last a week but a well-chosen orchid may still be blooming on Labor Day!

Feb. 14 suggestion: Philly flower show tickets with perks

Here's another Valentine's Day gift that keeps on giving long after the holiday is over: Treat your sweetie to the largest indoor flower show on the planet, with perks.

Buy them a membership in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the organization that presents the renowned Philadelphia Flower Show every March, and they'll receive Flower Show tickets, plus use of the exclusive Member's Lounge at the show. It's a comfy place to sit down and relax, enjoy complementary coffee and tea and get ready for the next round of amazing displays. And only PHS members can use it.

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