University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

St. Valentine's Day, which has its origins in the pagan festival of Lupercalia, is recognized in  England, France, Austria, Germany, and the United States. Although the custom of sending romantic cards to suitors began in the early part of the nineteenth century, flowers are a more recent custom, not from any ancient belief or tradition.  Originally just men gave women flowers.  In more recent decades, women have given flowers to their true loves on St. Valentine's Day.

Traditionally, long-stemmed, red roses are associated with this holiday although carnations, tulips, azaleas, and other flowers are catching up in popularity. So are sweetheart or miniature roses, which are just as attractive, but not as expensive, as tea
roses and come in the same range of colors from red and pale pink to white, cream, lavender, peach, and yellow.

If you are buying a dozen roses to go, instead of having the florist deliver them, visit your local florist to experience all the choices, fragrances, and colors!  Select blooms that are just beginning to open for longest vase-life.

Wrap the flowers well to protect against the cold, as chilling February temperatures can damage the delicate blossoms. An alternative to roses is to buy, or have your florist make up, a mixed bouquet with a red-pink-white color scheme. Possibilities include carnations, daisies, freesia, and tulips as well as more exotic choices like Peruvian lily (Alstromeria), red anthurium, or red ginger. Add a few sprigs of baby's breath and some greens for the finishing touch.

Potted flowering plants will help extend your Valentine's Day greetings and brighten up winter days ahead. Many florists, garden stores, even many grocery stores, carry potted azaleas, cyclamen, and chrysanthemums and may even have unusual varieties. Kalanchoe, with its scarlet red flowers set high on spikes, is usually seen around the Christmas holidays but works as a gift here too.  There are even more dwarf forms of this plant, with double flowers, called Calandiva.  I personally like potted red tulips, as such bulbs are a sign spring is on its way.

African violets are one of the easiest flowering indoors plants to grow, and can be found with reddish flowers in some varieties.  Just make sure these stay warm, have bright but indirect light, and donít overwater.  Use lukewarm water to avoid shocking the roots, and keep it off the leaves to avoid spotting them.

Another group of potted flowering plants that has become quite popular are the orchids.  There are hundreds, mainly hybrids, to choose from at full service greenhouses or online.  These make quite special gifts.  Just keep in mind orchids are generally epiphytic, meaning they grow in a medium such as bark and not soil.  This means they need frequent watering, and higher humidity. Some can be a challenge to get to rebloom indoors, although the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) and dendrobium are fairly easy and good choices for beginners.

When buying a flowering potted plant, select one with many buds about to open, rather than one already in full bloom. Check buds, blossoms, and undersides of leaves for signs of disease or insect pests.

Ensure that your gift gets proper care by enclosing a note with care instructions. Mention that plants need to be kept well-watered, but not overwatered, and out of drafty areas. Temperatures should be 45 to 55 degrees F at night, around 65 to 70 degrees F during the day if possible. Recommend that the recipient remove the foil or paper covering the pot, or make a hole in the bottom, to allow adequate drainage when watering.

If your special someone is a gardener, present him or her with a "bouquet" of seed packages for cut flower varieties including cosmos, delphiniums, shasta daisies, snapdragons, zinnias, asters, and baby's breath (Gypsophila). Or promise to plant a
culinary herb or perennial garden in the spring.  Gift certificates to local garden stores make great presents as well.  If you want to give roses, how about a coupon for an actual rose plant in the spring?

Your choices are endless. Valentine's Day isn't just roses any more.

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