Picking Valentine’s Day flowers? Consider tulips over roses

Meet Mike later this month

Mike will appear on Saturday, Feb. 23 and Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Capital Home & Remodel Show at the Dulles Expo Canter in Chantilly, Virginia. Hope to see you there!

Valentine’s Day is coming. Consider a gift of the future.

Valentine’s Day is this coming Thursday! (And, if you didn’t know that, this may be the most important Garden Plot you’ll ever read!)

Now, instead of giving cut flowers that will eventually fade away, how about “giving” an event experience that will give long-lasting memories, such as a trip to the famed Philadelphia Flower Show next month?

Philly’s is the largest indoor flower show in the world, with acres of major exhibits and breathtakingly perfect individual plants. It’s also the longest-running American flower show — the poinsettia was first seen in the U.S. at the premier Philly show in 1829!

This year’s theme, “Flower Power,” should make for an especially exciting experience with exhibits touting the healing power of plants and a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock! Wear your love beads and Madras sneakers!

P.S. I’ll give my annual lecture at the The Flower Show at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6. It’s free with Flower Show admission!

Valentine’s Day showdown: Tulips beat roses

Valentine’s Day draws near — are you ready to send the correct message on Thursday?

Red roses do symbolize “love” according to The Floral Code, the “language of flowers” that was immensely popular in the Victorian Era. Manners and station often prevented direct talk of romance then 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.

Ah, but red tulips are also 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 make these popular posies perennial:

  • 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 of each stalk. (Don’t cut down low; just clip off the top.)
  • Then, give the plants’ 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 if 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.

“Yellow roses for a blue lady …”

Here’s more Floral Code:

  • White roses symbolize chastity, which is perhaps not your intended point on Feb. 14.
  • Peach-colored roses mean “sympathy,” which might be what you’ll need, but don’t ask for it up front, OK?
  • Yellow roses might be the worst; that color translates to “let’s just be friends.” Oy!
  • Oh, and 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 vase the flowers will go into.
  • Then, mix one can of Sprite, 7-Up 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.
  • Re-cut 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!

Florist, a shot of Grey Goose!

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 above), 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 WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at MikeMcG@PTD.net.

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