Tips to keep those Valentine’s Day flowers fresh, kick-start spring seeds

The Zima dilemma: Clear beer no good for plants

Last week we revealed that adding a little vodka to the vase water would help cut roses last longer; which led to this website comment from ‘Geradeaus’: “Could I use a can of Zima? I can’t drink it and I have to do something with the stuff.”

Ha! The basic answer is no, Ger. Zima was a heavily marketed, poorly received, colorless malt-based beverage: essentially a clear beer. And studies have shown that beer and wine are detrimental to cut flowers (and potted plants — no pun intended).

I say “was” because Zima became so unpopular that production ceased back in October — so you not only have a clear beer; you might well have a stale clear beer.

Keep it away from roses, but do add it to your compost pile or give it to a composting friend to pour on their pile. Stale beer is a great springtime kick-start for cold compost piles. (As is fresh beer, but there are better uses for that …)

Keep your cut roses clean!

Time for a Valentine’s Day cut-rose reminder. As we reported last week, many researchers feel that the No. 1 cause of short vase life for cut roses is dirty water. And one of the biggest causes of that dirty water is failure to remove leaves below the water line.

So check your vase water! If it’s discolored — or even if you just see leaves below the water line — dump it out and wash the vase well. Then remove any underwater leaves, warm up the contents of a can of 7 Up (or Sprite, or any nondiet lemon-lime soda) and three cans of distilled water, add a few drops of vodka and vinegar, recut the roses and place them immediately into the warm water.

If you care for them correctly, your cut roses could still be looking good next weekend.

Planning on starting from seed? Gather your supplies

Only 10 more days until March, which is when I get serious about seed-starting. For the crops of the summer, such as peppers, tomatoes, cukes and such, you typically want to start your seeds indoors about two months before you plan to start taking the plants outside. In our region, most people hover around May 15 as their planting date, which means you would start your seeds around March 15.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because this is the time to make sure you have those seeds, a bagged soil-free mix in which to start them, and bright lights — LED or florescent — to help them grow short and stocky. (Tall and lean = unhealthy plants.)

If your plan was to use garden soil and a so-called sunny windowsill, do everybody a favor and just buy your plants already started in May.

You can — and should — start lettuce and spinach now

You don’t have to start your own crops of summer — like tomato, pepper, and cuke plants — from seed. In fact, I recommend against it if you’re a beginning gardener. Get used to killing big plants outdoors before you graduate to killing tiny ones inside.

But I urge beginners and experienced gardeners alike to start seeds of some cool-season plants as soon as they can get their act together. These plants need much less time indoors and are much more forgiving. And you have to start them early if you want to grow these plants during their favorite time of year!

Normally, these crops are direct-seeded — that is, sown directly into warm soil outside. And that’s exactly what you should do with them after the soil warms up. But by then you’ve wasted a good two months of prime growing time!

Because, although the seeds of cool-weather plants such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli and kale won’t sprout in the cold soil outside, plants that are already growing don’t mind the chill one bit. In fact, they’ll grow much better in March and April than they would in July. And you can put them outside when they’re a mere three or four weeks old. So get growing!

Get a nice bag of soil-free mix (seed-starting soil or potting soil). You may have to look around a bit for a high-quality bag, but take the extra time. Don’t settle for mixes that contain chemical fertilizers or water-holding crystals. Use the mix to fill your containers — ideally, old nursery six-packs that held previous years’ plants.

Sit the filled six-packs in water until they’re saturated, and then sow the seeds on top of the moist mix. Just a few seeds per cell for headed lettuce, but sow cutting greens thickly. Cover the seeds with a little more soil mix, and then cover it all with plastic wrap. Sit your setup in a tray that holds water, then just let it sit out in a warm spot in your house.

Remove the wrap when you see the very first sprouts and get the plants into bright light; outdoors during sunny days would be ideal. Water them by sitting them in the sink again whenever the mix feels light. Once they’re three or four weeks old, leave them out overnight for a few nights and then plant them into a container or garden bed in a sunny spot.

You’ll have fresh greens for your salad bowl a few weeks after that!

Live Valentine’s Day plant care

Did you receive a live plant for Valentine’s Day — an orchid, potted tulips or one of those miniature roses?

  • Keep orchids in ambient or filtered light — they can’t handle direct sun — and water once a week by sitting their pot in a few inches of water for an hour or so.
  • Keep tulips and other spring bulbs out of direct sun until the flowers fade. Then clip off the top of the flower stalk, move them into the brightest light possible and give them a gentle feeding and regular water. If those green leaves get enough light and food, the under-the-soil bulbs should produce a flower inside that will bloom for you again next spring (after you plant the bulbs outdoors in the fall).
  • Give mini roses bright light, water them once a week and then maybe plant them outside in the spring if you want — but keep your hopes low. These fragile plants rarely survive.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

© 2016 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up