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Best flowers for Mother’s Day and other garden gift ideas

Sunday is Mother’s Day, so let’s make some flowering gift suggestions. WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath recommends tulips, among other Mother's Day surprises. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sunday is Mother’s Day, so let’s make some flowering gift suggestions. I see lots of potted tulips out there, and they’re my No. 1 choice.

Choose plants whose flower heads are still tight — the more closed-up the petals, the longer the flowering show will last.

Potted tulips can be displayed indoors or out — but they’ll hold their flowers longer in a cool room indoors; they don’t need sunlight at this stage. Do not overwater.

After the flowers fade, clip off the little seed head that will form at the top of the stalk, remove the decorative foil and place the plants outside in bright sunshine. Do not cut off or tie up the green leaves!

Water them once a week if we don’t get rain. Feed them with a gentle liquid organic fertilizer when you first take them out.

When the leaves turn brown, cut them off and store the pots in a cool, dry spot for planting in the fall. Do not water or feed them; let the bulbs go fully dormant.

Different colors have different meanings

Care for you tulips correctly, plant the bulbs outside this fall and your Mother’s Day gift may return to bloom brightly on many Mother’s Days to come! It will also help to know which each colored signifies:

  • Basic red tulips are the most reliable returners. And in the Victorian “Language of Flowers” they stand for love and respect — not a bad Mother’s Day message.
  • Dark red tulips convey beauty, perfection and adoration.
  • Gratitude and sincerity? That would be light pink.
  • Orange stands for appreciation and understanding; a great choice if you were a handful growing up (like Moi).
  • And finally, if mom is THE undisputed matriarch of the family, she deserves purple — the tulip that celebrates her elegance and regal status.

Step AWAY from those spring bulb greens!

My speaking of potted tulips for a Mother’s Day gift sparks a reminder that right now is THE critical time to insure the return of any spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils and crocus already in the ground outside.

The No. 1 rule for return? Do not cut back or tie up the leaves of the plants. If you do, you will get only leaves next spring; no flowers.

I repeat: Those bulb greens are now absorbing the solar energy the plants need to grow next year’s flowers; take away those solar panels and you will get no flowers next year.

But you can — and should — feed the plants with a gentle liquid organic fertilizer now. And you can safely remove the leaves after they lose their green.

Make an instant garden for mom

I just got a news release email from Espoma — the natural plant food company best known for Holly-Tone — that had a great Mother’s Day suggestion. Instead of giving mom cut flowers that will rapidly fade, why not make a small garden of her very own that you will create right before her eyes?

Go to your local garden center and get a nice big container that would fit nicely in her landscape. I like long rectangular containers made of hard plastic; they’re much sturdier and easy-care than clay pots and they hold more plants than round ones.

Get a bag or two of natural potting soil — a brand that doesn’t contain chemical fertilizers or those awful water holding crystals — a bag of premium compost and an assortment of small plants like herbs for cooking and marigolds and begonias for color. (No tomatoes or other big plants that require extra care and support.)

Then, create an instant garden right in front of her!

  • Place the container where it will stay — preferably in a spot that gets good sun.
  • Fill the container with a mix of approximately two-thirds of potting soil and one-third of compost.
  • Water this mixture well. Go slow and give the soil time to absorb the water. Start with a pint or quart of water, add it slowly, leave the container sit for a few minutes, add another pint or quart, wait 10 minutes and then repeat until …
  • Water comes out the drainage holes in the bottom.
  • Install the plants — and BOOM — instant herb and flower garden. Approximate cost is about $50. Impression: priceless.

Give mom a moth

Looking for an unusual Mother’s Day gift that makes a big, bold statement for not a lot of money? Consider the easy-care orchids that are available at garden centers and supermarkets. If you choose your plant carefully, it could well bloom continuously all summer!

You want a ‘moth orchid’: they’re the ones with a long stalk that has flower buds up and down its stock and they’re the most common type you’ll see for sale. The secret is to choose the plant with the most unopened buds — ideally, one with just a few open flowers and lots of buds yet to open.
Keep it in a cool spot indoors that’s bright but not in direct sun. Don’t overwater the plant and those buds will open up in sequence for months to come.

Do not pick a plant where most of the flowers have already fallen off.

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