L ike traditional cornucopias, flowers can be a tangible reminder of the bounty we enjoy. And at this time of year, when our outdoor landscape looks a bit grim, fresh flowers are particularly welcome.
Whether you're hosting a holiday feast or have been invited to one, flowers or flowering plants are a must. But what to buy? That depends on whether you want instant gratification or long-lasting looks.
Cut flowers and floral bouquets offer more diversity in flower form, color and size. And over the past few years, even drop-dead gorgeous flowers have become very affordable. Even if you're not interested in a top-of-the-line arrangement from a florists' shop, you can often find large bunches of fresh roses or mixed blooms available at upscale supermarkets.
One tip: When buying a prepacked bouquet, look for a "sell by" date on the label. That will help you select the freshest flowers.
If you're looking for longevity, there are several cut flowers that may look good for at least two weeks. They include alstroemeria (also known as "poor man's orchid"), chrysanthemums and mini-carnations, as well as tropical exotics such as ginger, anthurium and bird-of-paradise.
All cut flowers and floral arrangements will stay fresh longest when kept out of direct sunlight, away from heat sources.
Although people don't usually associate roses with longevity, I've had excellent luck with spray roses from the grocery store. These are roses that have rather woody stems and four, five or more smallish flowers in a loose cluster at the tip. Choose spray roses with flower buds that are just beginning to unfurl.
Once you get your flowers home, re-cut the stems and add a packet of floral preservative to the water.
You may find a few blooming potted plants at the supermarket, but shop your favorite florists or garden center for the best selection. Chrysanthemums are a traditional favorite this time of year and are available in a wide palette of rich fall colors. Other lovely potted plants include brilliantly colored cyclamen, azaleas, rieger begonias, hydrangeas and "kalandiva," a new double-flowering kalanchoe that can be grown year-round.
You also may be pleasantly surprised to find several species of orchids priced very modestly. Despite their fragile look, orchid blooms are surprisingly long lived, especially when indoor temperatures are kept relatively cool. In fact, it's not unusual to see Phalaenopsis flowers (the very popular "moth" orchids) last two months or more. And because there are usually several flowers open on a single stem, many orchids offer breathtaking beauty from Thanksgiving through the new year.
Deb Brown is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Yard and Garden Line. For help with garden, plant and insect questions, call the Yard and Garden Line at 612-624-4771.