Garden Plot: How to make your Valentine’s Day bouquet last longer

Tired of your Valentine’s Day roses losing their luster by Feb. 15? Forget pennies in the water or the powder in those chemical preservative packets. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Prostock-Studio)

10 acres of flowers for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is next Friday, and if you didn’t know that, this may be the most important “Garden Plot” you’ll ever read.

Now, instead of giving flowers that eventually fade away, how about an event whose memories will last forever, such as a trip to the famed Philadelphia Flower Show next month?

Philly is the largest indoor flower show in the world, with 10 acres of major exhibits and breathtakingly perfect individual plants. It’s also the oldest American flower show—the poinsettia was first seen in the United States at the premier show in 1829.

This year’s theme, “Riviera Holiday,” promises a bit of Mediterranean warmth in the middle of winter. Buy your tickets early and get a break on the price (check out the “Friends and Family” deal) at

The flower that says, ‘I love you’

So, are you ready to send the correct message next Friday, on Valentine’s Day?

Red roses do symbolize “love” in general in “The Floral Code,” the “language of flowers” that was immensely popular in the Victorian Era, for a time when manners and station often prevented direct talk of romance and symbolism was the only socially acceptable way to express your feelings.

But red tulips specifically mean “I love you.” And red tulips are reliable re-bloomers, so if you buy them as live plants growing in a pot and give the green leaves lots of sun, after the flowers fade, you can plant the bulbs in the ground this fall and aim for everlasting love.

Don’t give the wrong roses

You may want to avoid roses in colors other than the basic red.

White roses symbolize chastity, which is, perhaps, not your intended point on Feb. 14.

Peach 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!

Oh, and don’t worry, if your red roses have a few thorns — the more thorns, the more passionate your love.

The proven cut flower preserver

Tired of your Valentine’s Day roses losing their luster by Feb. 15? Forget pennies in the water or the 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.
  • Then, warm this mixture to around 100 degrees.
  • Remove any leaves that would fall below the water line.
  • Recut the stems at an angle, then place them in the still-warm water.
  • Display the vase in the coolest spot in your home.

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

…and maybe toss in a shot for good luck

An article published in The International Journal of Biotechnology Research contains some important Valentine’s Day information: namely that—as with many humans—sugar and alcohol may be key to success!

The researchers found that keeping cut flowers looking good the longest requires some sugar for food, clean water with a low pH, an anti-microbial agent to keep the water clean and … a little vodka.

Originally thought to kill microbes in the water, researchers found that the vodka actually prevented the release of ethylene gas, a natural ripening agent that would otherwise “push” the flowers into fully opening and dropping their petals prematurely.

Drink up!

Meet Mike in Chantilly later this month

I’ll appear on Saturday, Feb. 22 and Sunday, Feb. 23 at the long-running Capital Remodel & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Saturday talks will be at 1 p.m. and 4 pm; Sunday’s are noon and 2 p.m.

I’ll talk about tomatoes, organic lawn care, compost and, of course, answer your toughest garden questions! More info here.

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

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