DEAR JESSICA: I need to fill about 80 small Mason jars with flowers for an affair in late February. What flower or plant would you recommend? Price is a big factor.
— Diane Cavallaro,
DEAR DIANE: Mason jar arrangements are very trendy right now, lending an approachable-yet-festive vibe as centerpieces and room decorations to everything from intimate dinners to wedding receptions. What you fill the jars with will be largely dependent on the theme and color scheme of your party, and whether it’s a formal or casual affair. One thing is certain, however: To keep costs down, now or at any time of year, start your search with flowers that are in season. Late February is when spring flower season gets underway in the commercial industry, so focusing on daffodils, carnations, snapdragons and Alstroemeria likely will yield a savings over other flowers. Tulips typically drop in price in March, but you may be able to catch the early part of that wave. Chrysanthemums tend to be a budget-friendly option year-round, and they’re available in an array of colors for mixed bouquets, or you can choose all-white for an understated, elegant look. Wax flowers are adorable tiny specimens that can stand alone en masse in a jar, as can baby’s breath, and both are economical choices.
DEAR JESSICA: I have two questions for you. One concerns growing an avocado: I have placed the pit in water as directed in all the books, but I recently read that it should be kept in the dark until a rootlet forms. Is this true? Also, can I grow garlic indoors now, or must I wait until fall to plant it?
— Frances Cammisa,
DEAR FRANCES: It isn’t true that your pit should be kept in the dark until it sprouts, but it should be kept out of direct sunlight.
Many seeds do prefer shelter from light for the best germination, while others won’t reliably sprout in the dark. Once a seedling emerges, however, they all require bright light in order to thrive.
Growing an avocado plant from seed directly in water, as you are doing, does in fact require indirect or filtered sunlight before the pit germinates.
To do so, the California Avocado Commission recommends suspending a pit, broad end down, over a glass of water, supported by toothpicks so that the bottom inch or so of the pit is submerged. Place the glass in a warm spot out of direct sunlight, and top off as needed to keep the water level consistent.
You should notice roots and a stem sprout in about two to six weeks. When the stem reaches 6 inches long, cut it down to 3 inches, and when the stem develops more leaves and the roots have thickened, plant it in a 10 1⁄2-inch diameter pot, with the seed’s top half exposed. The commission recommends “the more sunlight, the better” for growing your plant, and advises to keep the soil moist but not saturated.
As far as garlic is concerned, fall is the ideal time to plant cloves in the garden because they require a chill over winter in order to thrive best. With a little extra effort, however, you can start them indoors eight weeks before the last frost date.
Select a wide container that’s at least eight inches deep; a large shoe box would be ideal. Poke drainage holes in the bottom, and it with a piece of newspaper (not this column!) or a paper coffee filter to prevent the loss of soil, then fill with potting mix and plant individual, unpeeled cloves pointy-end up, about 3 inches apart, and cover with an inch of soil.
This is the point at which you’ll have to make a decision: You can take the easy way out, set the box by your sunniest window, and settle for small, somewhat flavorless cloves. Or, you can replicate winter and chill the cloves for a better shot at garden-quality garlic.
If you opt for the latter, water lightly, then cover the top of the box with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for eight weeks, checking periodically to maintain moisture.
After eight weeks, move the box to the sunniest spot in your home until your cloves sprout. Remove plastic and continue watering.
You will now be faced with decision number two: Either carefully cut the bottom and side walls out of the box and plant the block of garlic-containing soil directly into the garden, taking care to disturb it as little as possible and to ensure it ends up at the same depth as it was growing in the box. Or, you can keep it indoors as a houseplant and dig up the cloves when all except four to six leaves die back.