Valentine's Day Rose Alternatives & more!
That's right, guys: Valentine's Day is coming! (And if you didn't know THAT, this is already the best tip you'll hear this year!) Now, do you REALLY want to have to take out a second mortgage to pay for a bouquet of a dozen roses that costs about ten bucks the other 51 weeks of the year?
Instead, consider impressing your Valentine with a romantic flower that keeps on giving: A beautiful live orchid, specifically the easy-care Phalaenopsis, commonly known as "the moth orchid", because the sequential flowers look like rows of little butterflies in flight. Pick one with lots of unopened buds and the plant will produce new flowers for many weeks to come; perhaps months. Conversely, if the plant only has a few buds and lots of open spaces on the stalk where flowers have already fallen off, pass it by. Keep it in indirect light with high humidity, don't overwater, and it could be around for many Valentine's Days to come! Or, if your Valentine has outdoor space they want to fill, try this summer-blooming bulb whose flowers resemble showy orchids!
Or consider a different cut flower than the traditional rose, like the tropical Bird of Paradise. A strikingly tall bouquet of six beautiful 'Birds' makes a bigger impression than a dozen roses, often for much less $$. And you can make these members of the banana family continue to flower for several weeks as well! Buy big, plump 'heads' with just one colorful blue and gold flower showing. Then, when that flower starts to fade, snap it off, pull the sides of that big 'head' open and gently coax out the next flower; there could be four or five in there! Keep those Birds flying till tax time! And if your Valentine is a house plant fanatic, get them a real bird! They're difficult and slow to start from seed, but a live plant will produce flowers fairly quickly; AND 'birds' produce their blooms in mid-to-late winter! In fact, my Bird of Paradise has a big flower head on it right now that will should be in PERFECT bloom for Valentine's Day. Leave it in the plant or cut and display it; just don't forget to be pulling out those sequential heads!
And if it HAS to be cut roses, make those budget-busters last as long as possible with this tip from renowned floral arranger (and Irish pastor) The Reverend William McMillan: Cut two inches off the bottom of each stem while holding it under water, immediately plunge the cut stem into boiling water for a few seconds, then into a vase filled with fresh cool water. 'Conditioned' roses, swears the Good Reverend, stay fresh twice as long. (And I'm pretty sure he's not ALLOWED to fib!)
Ah, but one of my absolute favorite tricks can help your cut rose investment grow really long-term dividends; by turning those cut flowers into live plants in your landscape. Really! Rose lovers do this all the time; trading favorite varieties (and saving rare old heirlooms from bulldozers) by taking cuttings and rooting them. And the pricier-than-platinum posies in those bouquets are really just cuttings. Here's how to do it:
- You must cut the flower heads off right away. But don't worry—we're still going to display those blooms beautifully. Fill the bottom half of your nicest glass bowl with marbles and add some water. Cut the flowers off their canes, leaving a good couple inches of stem attached to the base of each flower; then use those stems to arrange the flowers in the marbles. Boom—you're looking better than Martha!
- Then cut a couple inches off the bottoms of the canes and sit them in six inches of water—preferably willow water. The new growth of willow trees contains a powerful natural rooting hormone; and perhaps more importantly, using willow water is good luck, which we gardeners need more of than normal people. Its easy; just cut lots of fresh branch tips from a willow into small pieces, place them in a bucket, fill the bucket up with cold water, let it sit for 24 hours and you've made willow water, sometimes called "cold willow tea". Pour the extra into old Spring water jugs and store in a cool place.
- After a 12 to 24 hour soak, take the stems out of the water and cut off all the leaves except for the very top set. Get a nice big pot with good drainage and fill it up close to halfway with a light potting mix or equal amounts of peat, perlite, vermiculite and compost (which is also the perfect seed-starting mix; it's almost time, kids!). Arrange three or four of the stems around the edge of the pot, making sure that a couple bulging bud eyes will be underground on each cane when the pot is filled to the top (those bud-like things are what will actually root). Then fill the pot up the rest of the way. (Don't fill it up first and then jam the stems in!) Water it well—again, preferably with willow water—and make a mini greenhouse to keep moisture in. You want it to stay nice and moist in there; in fact, you always want to see moisture beaded up on the inside of your cover. Either suspend a plastic bag over top or cut up a clear gallon-sized spring water jug to make a nice rigid cover.
- Put it in the brightest spot you have that isn't direct sunlight, mist it frequently and keep the soil moist; use willow water for both misting and watering if you can. DON'T let the soil dry out. And yes, this IS the opposite of good basic houseplant advice.
- In about six weeks, green growth will begin to appear on the canes you've successfully rooted. When this happens, remove the cover and begin to gradually cut back on the moisture until you're only watering once a week. Take the pots outside for the summer, but wait until Fall to actually plant your new roses in the ground. Choose spots that are well drained and that get lots of air circulation and morning sun. You can expect to achieve success with three to six canes from each dozen attempted.