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Keep Valentine's Flowers Fresh Longer

By Dennis Schrock, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

Love is eternal. Valentine's Day flowers aren't.

The fleeting beauty of cut flowers and gift plants is one reason they are so highly cherished. A finely crafted artificial bouquet -- no matter how beautiful -- doesn't carry the same sentiment as a live plant.

Here are some tips to make the sentiment last longer.

Cut flowers

Cut the stems of boxed flowers, such as roses or carnations, under water. This prevents air from plugging the moisture- conducting tubes in the stems. Place the flowers in warm water to which you've added a floral preservative. (If the cut stem ends have been in water continuously, water temperature is not as critical.) Once in water, maximum water and preservative uptake is enhanced by placing the flowers in a cool spot for several hours.

Florists keep their display arrangements in a cooler for good reason. Flowers last much longer at cooler temperatures than at room temperature. Keep your cut flowers out of the hot sun and away from heat sources, and they'll reward you with longer life.

Consider moving them to a cool spot, such as a basement or into a bay window, overnight. Moving them into the refrigerator, however, isn't the best idea. Even if you could find the space, excessively cold spots might freeze tender blooms. In addition, fruits and vegetables stored in the fridge can give off ethylene gas that will cause the flowers to age prematurely.

Spring bulbs

Colorful containers of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and crocus are popular Valentine's Day gifts. Keep in mind conditions outdoors during the normal bloom time of these plants; that information will help you keep the bulbs fresh as long as possible.

Ideal temperatures for spring bulbs are in the 40s and 50s. Keep them as cool as practical to prolong bloom. If kept at a toasty 75 degrees, the blooms likely will fade within a couple of days.

Readers often want to know how to keep the bulbs growing to plant in the garden next year. The best advice is "Don't." Forcing bulbs into early bloom removes a lot of their stored energy reserves. You might keep the foliage alive by regular watering, until it dies down naturally, but light intensities indoors are so much lower than those outdoors and the bulb has been stressed so extensively that results usually are disappointing. You'll get greater satisfaction if you plant new bulbs next fall.

If, however, your heart is set on saving these bulbs, keep them growing as long as possible with regular watering and fertilization to rebuild strong bulbs. Once the foliage dies down naturally, allow the soil to dry out moderately. Soil should begin to crack away from the edge of the pot, but not be allowed to become powdery dry. Separate and plant the bulbs outdoors as soon as the soil is workable.

Azaleas

Red, pink and white flowers make azaleas a natural Valentine's Day gift. Under diffused sunlight and with frequent waterings, the showy blooms can remain in good condition for several weeks if they are kept at 55 to 60 degrees.

Azaleas require an acid soil; therefore they usually are grown in a peaty soil mix. Peat holds moisture well, but if allowed to dry out, can be almost impossible to re-wet. Never let your gift azalea totally dry out or you may not be able to re-moisten the soil. Should the soil become excessively dry, sink the entire pot in a tub of warm water.

Because they are woody plants, azaleas can be kept growing from year to year, but getting them to bloom again can be tricky. Besides careful attention to watering and soil pH, azaleas require a chilling period to get them to re-bloom. If you would like to try re-blooming your azalea, set it outdoors in a partially shaded spot (no direct afternoon sun) in late May. Either plant it directly in the ground in a mixture of 1 part soil to 1 part peat moss, or sink the pot into the ground. Keeping the root system at or below ground level will minimize the need for supplemental watering through the summer. Use an acid-type evergreen and azalea fertilizer through the spring and summer months. Re-pot azaleas before the first frost and set the potted plant in a frost-free coldframe. By November, the plant should have received enough chilling to set flower buds. Bring plants indoors, keep cool in a bright spot and water frequently. In six to ten weeks, the plant should re-bloom.

Calceolarias and cinerarias

Calceolarias and cinerarias are popular gift plants because of their vibrant colors. The former also is known as pocketbook plant, because it has pouch-like blooms resembling a purse. Cinerarias are members of the daisy family. But they are annuals, grown from seed. They will not re-bloom. Thus, once they've bloomed, discard them.

Blooms will last longer if you keep the plants at 50 to 60 degrees and if you water frequently. Once a cineraria wilts, it almost never revives. On the other hand, keeping them soggy can lead to root rot and premature death. Water when the soil surface just begins to feel dry.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010