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Garden plot: Frozen limbs and Valentine's Day

Friday - 2/7/2014, 12:22pm  ET

redtulips.jpg
Roses aren't the only romantic flower -- red tulips can make the statement. (Thinkstock)

Editor's note:This month, you have two chances to meet Mike.

Saturday, Feb. 22: Green Spring Gardens EcoSavvy Symposium; Greensprings Gardens in Alexandria, Va. Mike will speak at 10:30 a.m. Click here for more information.

Sunday, Feb. 23: Capital Home & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va. Mike will appear at noon and 2 p.m. Click here for details.

Don't try to help plants encased in ice

This miserable winter weather takes a big toll on our landscape plants. Heavy snow cover is great when it's on the ground. Its insulating ability actually helps perennials survive intensely cold nights. But snow cover isn't good when it bends or breaks the limbs of our favorite trees and shrubs. And nothing delivers more garden shpilkes than seeing a favorite plant dragged down by a heavy coating of ice.

But despite what seems to be a pitiful plea from the poor plants, you must resist the temptation to help. Don't try to beat snow, or especially ice, off your plants. I know it's difficult, but the best to do right now is nothing. Let nature take its course, then you can better evaluate and remedy any damage once we begin to thaw out.

Warm weather and sun will give lift to bent plants

Instead, let the ice and snow melt naturally, then examine the plant to see whether any limbs are actually broken. If they are, they can and should be removed right away. Remove the entire limb, but don't make a "flush cut" against the trunk. Always leave the visible "collar" at the end of the branch attached to the tree.

But that's just for broken limbs. Don't try to straighten, support or otherwise force plants that are simply bent over to be suddenly upright; they'll just snap right off. Instead, let nature gradually warm the sap and make the plant more flexible as winter (finally!) melts into spring. Then, allow the power of the sun to coax the plant slowly back into an upright position. It's what the plant wants to do.

Be patient, do no harm and you may well have your old plant back and looking like new by mid-July.

Valentine's Day warning: Don't give the wrong color rose

Less than a week until Valentine's Day, men. And if you plan to give the traditional gift of roses on Feb. 14, be aware that red roses mean love in the language of flowers. But other colors may have negative meanings.

For instance, in that ancient floral code (designed to convey meaning through flowers instead of perhaps forbidden words), peach-colored roses mean sympathy, and yellow roses mean let's just be friends. Yikes!

But not all reds are safe. Those super-velvety red roses stand for "bashful shame" in the code. Although that may be true, why advertise?

Red tulips say "I Love You" and they just might say it for years to come

Believe it or not, the most specific declaration of love in the floral code is conveyed by red tulips, because in flower language, red tulips specifically mean "I love you."

But wait, there's more. Buy your red tulips alive in a pot, as opposed to cut, and you can then try to coax them into "perennializing" outdoors. Here's how:

  • Keep the potted plants in a cool spot for the longest flowering display.
  • When the flowers fade, cut them off. Just remove the very top of the stalk, not all the way down, and don't molest the green leaves.
  • Move these now-leafy plants into bright, direct sunlight, feed them with a gentle organic fertilizer and water when the pots begin to feel light.
  • When the snow and ice finally stop, move the pots outside. Give them another gentle feeding.
  • When the leaves begin to turn brown, store the pots in your basement or garage - no more food, light or water.
  • When autumn arrives, find the pots, dig the bulbs out of the soil and plant them in the ground between Halloween and Thanksgiving. With any luck, they'll return year after year to become a symbol of everlasting love.

Turn cut roses into living plants

Giving cut roses this Valentine's Day? Consider making that bouquet a long-lasting gift by turning the 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 here's how they can still put on a show: After you present the unaltered bouquet, pull out a pair of pruners and quickly cut the flowers off, leaving a couple inches of stem still attached to each bloom. Then, position your now-short-stem roses in a prearranged glass bowl filled with marbles and water. The marbles will hold the flowers upright.

Then, follow the directions below to turn the cut canes into live plants.

  • Take the de-flowered stems, cut two inches off the bottom of each one and remove all the leaves from the bottom half of each cane.
  • Gently insert the leafless bottoms of the canes into a nice big pot with good drainage holes that you've filled with soil-free or "professional" mix (available at any good garden center). Make sure one or two little buds are below the soil line on each cane, and saturate the soil mix totally with clean water.
  • Drape a clear plastic bag over top and position the whole shebang where it gets bright, but indirect light. Not direct sunlight - that would cook the poor plants. Just bright light.
  • Lift the cover and mist the plants with plain water 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 have excellent drainage and airflow and get good morning sun) between April 15 and the end of June.
  • Water deeply every third day if spring and summer are dry. Otherwise, water deeply but infrequently - only once a week. And never wet the leaves when you water; just the soil.

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