How to make your Valentine’s Day flowers last

Orchids on parade Sunday

Looking to get out of the house on a rainy day and gaze at some amazing plants in bloom? Or maybe you’re still in need of a unique horticultural gift for Valentine’s Day?

Either way, head to the National Capital Orchid Society’s 40th annual orchid auction Sunday, Feb. 11 at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville, Maryland.

Free and open to the public, more than 300 rare and unusual orchids will be on display beginning at 10 a.m. Those orchids will be auctioned off fast and furiously beginning at 11 a.m.

You don’t have to bid. Admission is free, and you can just go and immerse yourself in the amazing orchids. But if something special catches your eye, be ready — it might just make the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. Hint, hint.

You can find more details on the Orchid Society’s website.

Valentine’s Day showdown: Tulips beat roses!

Valentine’s Day draws near. Are you ready to send the correct message on Wednesday?

Red roses do symbolize “love” in general in The Floral Code in the “Language of Flowers” that was immensely popular in the Victorian era.

Back then, manners and station often prevented direct talk of romance, and symbolism was the only socially acceptable way to express your feelings.

But a gift of red TULIPS specifically means “I love you.

This must not be news to some people, as potted and cut tulips have become widely available around Valentine’s Day. And red tulips are reliable re-bloomers, so eschew those cut flowers.

If you buy live plants growing in a pot you can plant the bulbs in the ground this fall and aim for everlasting love.

Here’s how to perennialize these popular posies:

  • Display the purchased tulips in the coolest part of your house to prolong the flowering display.
  • Do not feed them. Water lightly. Avoid direct sunlight.
  • After the flowers fade, clip off the little bulges that form at the top each stalk. (Don’t cut down low. Just clip off the top.)
  • Then give the leaves the brightest light you can. A bay window is great, but direct sun outdoors is even better. And it’s OK to do so. Spring bulbs in general are very frost-hardy plants. Just bring them back inside temporarily if ice is predicted or overnight temps drop well below freezing.
  • While the leaves are nice and green, feed the plants with worm castings, worm tea, compost, compost tea or a gentle organic plant food with low N-P-K numbers on the label. (Something like 6-2-4 would be ideal, no “10-10-10” or other explosive chemical nonsense.)
  • After the leaves lose their green color, bring the pots inside and stash them in a cool dry spot in the basement or garage. No food. No water.
  • On a nice day after Thanksgiving, remove the bulbs from their pots and plant the individual bulbs in the ground 6 inches deep and a few inches apart.

You don’t want ‘yellow roses for a blue lady …’

During the Victorian era red roses did symbolize “love in general” in the Floral Code, but you want to avoid roses in colors other than the basic red.

  • White roses symbolize chastity — which is perhaps not your intended point on Valentine’s Day.
  • Peach-colored roses mean “sympathy,” which might be what you’ll need, but don’t ask for it up front?
  • Yellow roses might be the worst. That color translates to “let’s just be friends.” Oy!

Don’t worry if your red roses have a few thorns. The more thorns, the more passionate your love.

Making cut roses last the longest

Tired of your Valentine’s Day roses losing their luster by Feb. 15?

Forget putting pennies in the water or using the suspicious powder in those chemical preservative packets. Researchers whose work has been published in peer-reviewed journal articles recommend a different strategy:

  • First, thoroughly wash the flower vase.
  • Mix one can of Sprite, 7UP or other nondiet lemon-lime soda with three cans of water.
  • Add a few drops of vinegar.
  • Warm this mixture to around 100 degrees. (That’s warm to the touch but not really hot.)
  • Remove any leaves that would otherwise fall below the water line.
  • Recut the stems at an angle and quickly place them in the still-warm water mixture.
  • Display the vase in the coolest spot in your home.

Get it all right and those flowers can look fabulous for two weeks.

Yo, florist: A little Grey Goose over here, please!

An article published in The International Journal of Biotechnology Research contains some important Valentine’s Day information.

It turns out that — as with many humans — sugar and alcohol may be the keys to success!

The researchers found that keeping cut flowers looking good the longest requires some sugar for food (thus the nondiet soda), clean water with a low pH (the reason the soda is an acidic, lemon-lime, flavor), an antimicrobial agent to keep the water clean (that would be the vinegar) — and a little vodka.

Yes, vodka.

Originally thought to kill microbes in the water, researchers eventually learned that the vodka was actually preventing the release of ethylene gas, a natural ripening agent that would otherwise “push” the flowers into opening up faster and dropping their petals prematurely.

So, make it “one for my baby; and one more for the rose …”

Mike McGrath was Editor-in-Chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated Public Radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and Garden Editor for WTOP since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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