Trowel & Error

Gifts that keep on living

Plants make beautiful presents

By Nancy Crowe
Gardening is a popular pursuit, but the closest some folks will ever get to greenery is choosing flowers to send for Valentine’s Day. The standard dozen roses, or “Just put together something pretty and put it on my tab,” might get the job done. Or you might want to do something different this year.

Here are some ideas, compiled with the input of Blake Young of Young’s Greenhouse & Flower Shop.

What’s better than getting flowers? Getting flowers that are still part of live, growing plants … and may very well flower again. Young’s favorite is the cyclamen. The heart-shaped blooms come in Valentine-y red, pink and purple hues, and some even have frilly flowers. Depending on the age of the plant, the flowers should last into March or April, he said. Then the plant goes dormant in preparation for re-blooming in the fall. What’s especially nice about the cyclamen is its beauty as a house plant, flowering or not. Someone years ago advised choosing plants for their foliage, and in the case of the cyclamen, that choice is well founded. The dark-green leaves are heart shaped and tinged with a touch of silver.

If you are the lucky recipient of a cyclamen, the University of Minnesota Extension Service advises keeping it cool. A cyclamen will not be very happy in a hot, dry house, say above 68 to 70 degrees. At thes ame time, it needs as much light as you can give it. (As often happens when dealing with plants — or animals or people — sometimes you have to aim for a workable middle ground.) Wait until the soil feels dry, but not until the plant begins to wilt, before you water it.

Another good Valentine’s Day plant is the orchid. There are many orchid species, some quite rare and costly, but a phalaenopsis or dendrobium (check the tag) is pretty easy to find. These exotic beauties are tougher than they look. “We had a phalaenopsis here that bloomed for 16 months straight,” Young said.

A local orchid expert once said to water weekly, weakly — once a week, with orchid fertilizer at half strength. A phalaenopsis likes a warmer environment and not too much light; the American Orchid Society recommends an east window. More information is available

Young said tulip plants may also be available in February, and the bulbs can be saved for reblooming. Other choices include cineraria, primroses, azaleas and even miniature roses.

Tropical plants can bring a bit of green beauty into the middle of winter. Young said the sansevieria (aka mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant) is a popular choice. The sansevieria is one of the hardiest houseplants available, so if a special person in your life would like a plant but fears she has a “black thumb,” this is the one to pick. Crotons, which you can find at most nurseries or florist shops, have beautiful variegated leaves. Many croton cultivars have anywhere from a little to a lot of red in their leaves. These tropical plants are beautiful by themselves or in dish gardens.

A dish garden, which basically is a variety of plants together in a dish, basket or other container, can be easily customized or decorated for the occasion. In these, you generally find tropical greenery such as dieffenbachia, philodendron, arrowhead vine, peace lily and dragon tree, perhaps with a blooming plant, cut flowers or even a ribbon or decorative stake for color. Dish gardens can be enjoyed intact for weeks or even months, but sooner or later the plants will need to be repotted.

Another popular choice, Young said, especially for women to give to men, is a cactus plant or dish garden. These require very little maintenance.

If you still want to go the cut flower route, they’ll last longer if you cut the stems, on a slant, to your desired length and strip off the leaves that will be submerged in water. You’ll probably get some preservative in a little packet, or you can make your own with ingredients such as lemon-lime soda, bleach, sugar and lemon juice. Recipes can be found in Purdue publication HO-158, “Add Hours to Your Flowers.” Don’t forget to change the water every couple of days.

Above all, don’t be afraid to visit a florist’s shop for ideas and guidance. Sometimes all you have to do is show up with a clueless look on your face. They’ll fix you right up.

Nancy Crowe

Posted Wed, 04/04/2012 - 1:44 pm