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Mike McG's Special Tips for Valentine's Day!

These Roses ARE Good as Gold!
That's right, men, Valentine's Day is coming up! And if you always complain that roses seem to cost their weight in gold on February 14th, consider giving your sweetie REAL gold flowers for about the same price! The "Love is a Rose" website offers actual American-grown roses coated with 24-karat gold; long-stems for sixty dollars; three-inch long mini-roses for a mere twenty bucks. My favorite is their fifty dollar 'gold/red rose', the stem is coated in 24-karat gold, but the gold-trimmed flower petals and green leaves are preserved with a clear coating, so you can see their wonderful natural colors. The process is even more stunning on their orchid collection, beautifully preserved live flowers on real gold stems. They even promise delivery on Monday (the day itself!) if you order by noon on Saturday the 12th!

Roses?! Ha! Here's the REAL Romantic Flower
Men, pay attention! Valentine's Day is coming up! Women, of course, have no problem with this holiday, but it isn't only conspiracy theorists who feel that it may have been invented to make men look bad; not that they needed any help with that on the romantic front. But don't fear, we're going to help you look good on Monday the 14th, despite your chromosome structure. For instance, while other men are selling their SUVs or taking out a second mortgage to buy their sweetie a dozen red roses, YOU will present yours with a bouquet of a dozen cut red tulips or even better, forced pots of live red tulips*. Because as you will explain, in the ancient 'Floral Code' known as the Language of Flowers, red roses simply mean 'love' in general. Red Tulips say "I Love YOU."

*Look for pots of real tulips growing out of actual bulbs at better garden centers and nurseries; these 'forced' Spring bulbs are just making their first appearances now, and yes, you can (and should) plant them outdoors after the flowers fade

...Or how about a flower so hot it should come Rated 'R'?
Anybody can go out and buy a dozen cut roses for Valentine's Day, at least after a long stop at an ATM. Instead, why not present your sweetie with an equally romantic Valentine's Day flower that can stay in bloom for months, and come back into bloom many times? I'm talking an orchid. Specifically the easy-care Phalaenopsis, also known as 'the moth orchid' because the flowers look like rows of little butterflies in flight. You can get as many as a dozen blooms on a single plant, and those flowers are long lasting. Pick a plant with lots of unopened buds and you could see blooms for six months! Just give it good light, and keep the air around it moist. Or even better, give her a book on orchid care with the plant, people will think you're an orchid expert!

And if roses it MUST be, make them LAST!
You REALLY want Valentine's Day roses to last, after all, they're quite an investment compared to what they cost the rest of the year! So, here's a little cut flower conditioning secret I learned from internationally renowned floral designer, the Reverend William McMillan (yes, he's an actual Irish pastor too!): As soon as you get the roses home, bring a pan of water to a boil. Cut two inches off the bottom of each stem while holding it under cool water, then immediately plunge the bottom of the cut stem into the boiling water for a few seconds to 'condition' it, then immediately drop that conditioned rose into a vase filled with fresh room temperature water. Roses that go through this 'conditioning' process will stay fresh twice as long, much longer than that nasty chemical packet they came with would have achieved.

...Or better yet, make those roses grow MORE bouquets!
Some women just aren't happy unless their man presents them with a bouquet of roses on Valentine's Day, and if she ain't happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy. But funny thing about how those roses always seem to double, triple, quadruple in price as Feb 14 approaches. So if you're emptying your wallet, consider getting more out of the deal than the florist bargained for, ROOT some of those cut roses and turn them into live garden plants. Its not all that hard to do, and you'll generally get 3 or 4 live plants out of a bouquet of a dozen cut roses. And you only need the canes to work with; you can still enjoy the flowers themselves by cutting them off with a nice length of stem attached and displaying them beautifully in a nice cut glass bowl filled with marbles and water. Here's all the details:

First, locate a willow tree. (Willow stems contain a natural rooting hormone that will help insure success, and besides, its a great old wives tale kind of thing.) Take along a big bucket and cut as many fresh twigs from the willow as you can, hopefully, you'll get the bucket half to three-quarters full (cut the twigs into tiny pieces before you add water). Then take it home and fill it to the top with cold water and then let it sit for a good 24 hours (as opposed to a bad 24 hours). Try and time this to when you'll receive your flowers; otherwise put your 'cold willow water tea' in sealed glass jars in the fridge (or a cold corner of the cellar). When your get your roses, cut the flowers off with 2 to 3" of stem attached. (I know, I know, but it won't work if you don't.) Fill a nice cut glass bowl with glass marbles and water and then arrange the cut flowers on top of this (hey, lookame! I'm Martha Bad Word Stewart!). It looks very nice and you can still enjoy the blooms for just as long, so stop whining. Now cut about an inch or so off the bottoms of the flower-free canes and immediately put them in a vase filled with six inches or so of the willow water. Let them soak for at least 12 but not more than 24 hours. While they're soaking prepare the 'soil' you'll try and root your plants in, a nice loose mix of roughly one part each of vermiculite, perlite, peat and finished compost. You can use garden soil if you must, but try and bum some compost first if you don't got none.

OK, take the stems out of their soaking water and cut off all the leaves except for the very top set. Get a nice big pot, big enough to hold three or four of the cuttings, and fill it part way up with your nice loose, rooting mix. Now arrange three or four of the stems around the edge of this pot, making sure a couple of bud eyes are underground on each (they're the things what will actually root) and then fill up the pot with soil (don't fill it up first and then try and jam the stems in). Now water it all well with more of the willow water and make the put a mini greenhouse by suspending a plastic bag over top (rig up something with one of them useless little tomato cages or bend some wire hangers or sumptin') or by making a nice rigid cover out of one of those clear gallon sized spring water jugs (cut the bottom out to fit the pot; keep the lid and put it back on). You want it to stay nice and moist in there. You always want to see water beaded up on the inside of your cover.

Put it in a bright and/or sunny spot, mist it frequently and keep the soil wet, keep using willow water for both misting and watering. Be sure and water all the time. THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF BASIC HOUSE PLANT ADVICE, DON'T LET THIS SOIL DRY OUT!

It'll take about six weeks for you to know how you did. Green growth will begin to appear on the canes you've successfully rooted. Keep that soil moist, very important at this stage. But you can take the covers off once the new growth appears. Slowly start to cut back a bit on the watering. Eventually, water like house plants, once a week. Four months after you see that new growth appear, it's safe to transplant the canes, now real rose plants, outside. Pick a nice, well drained spot for each of your new plants, one that gets lots of air circulation and morning sun. If your soil is really bad, consider creating a nice little 'island' of that potting mix to get your babies going strong. Oh, and continue using willow water as much as you can.

If all goes well, you might even get some roses that first year. Definitely a full flush the next. Expect to achieve success with three to six canes from each dozen attempted.

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