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More Informed Choices About Valentine's Roses

A planter with red miniature roses.
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Each week, Charlie Nardozzi joins VPR’s Weekend Edition host Mary Engisch for a conversation about gardening, and to answer your questions about what you're seeing in the natural world. This week: How roses are grown and transported. Charlie also shares ways to choose more sustainably-grown roses for Valentine's Day.

The conventional gift in America on Valentine's Day is the cut-flower rose. And at this time of year, 30 cargo jets are flying every day between Bogota and Miami, bringing all those roses to America.

The vast majority of rose growers are in Ecuador and Colombia, which often use pesticides. In fact, if you handle cut-flower roses, you should wash your hands after, because there could be a lot of chemical residue still on them.

But a new movement is afoot in the cut flower industry. Farms are being certified, stating to their customers that they're growing flowers sustainably, without the use of banned pesticides: A benefit not just for the flowers, but the workers, too.

And, if you really have your heart set on giving cut-flower roses for Valentine's Day, you can look for these types of certification labels: Rainforest Alliance and Veriflora.

There are also alternatives to giving roses on Valentine's Day. Branch out and try miniature roses, red orchids or red antheriums, which have heart-shaped leaves.

Q: I have had a nearly 10-year war against Japanese Giant Coltsfoot along my brook. The utility company comes and says they can see it is six feet tall, with four-foot leaves on it, on the satellite! How do I get rid of this once and forever? It is killing everything else. And my springs, summers and falls. — Donna, McIndoe Falls

Petasites japonicus, also known as Japanese Butter Burr, is a big-leaf plant and spreads by sending out rhizomes underground. It loves wet conditions and shade conditions.

If it grows out of bounds, like Donna's has, you can dig down and put some deep edging down. The edging could be made of metal or rubber.

Get rid of it on one side of the edging by cutting it back repeatedly throughout the growing season. This will weaken it. You can further suffocate it by throwing plastic mulch over it and weighing it down. Pull that up after a year and continue to pull it up by hand. After a few years of repeating this, you'll likely get rid of it or at least significantly weaken it by removing most of the rhizomes.

Q: We start our tomato and pepper seeds indoors in early April. I'm wondering how far leeks would get if we started them at the same time. Has anyone started leek seeds later? And if so, were you able to harvest leeks large enough to eat? — Lauren, online

Indeed, you can plant leek seeds indoors in early April, along with other plants like tomatoes and peppers. The leeks, however, take a long season to mature. If you start them in April and harvest at the end of summer or early fall, they will be perfectly edible and harvestable, but they will be small. If that's okay, plant them in April. If you prefer them to grow bigger, start them indoors in February.

A thin grey line.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums (and pictures!), and Charlie will answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

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