Ask the Master Gardener: The meanings behind the color of roses

Flower symbolism was very popular during the Victorian era and has gained popularity once again.

A bouquet of roses.
A bouquet of multi-colored roses.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

Dear Master Gardener: I am going to buy my wife roses for Valentine’s Day. I’ve heard that different colors of roses have different meanings. Is it true? Because I certainly don’t want to give her the wrong color.

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Answer: The rose has been the emblem for love since early times. Meaning has been attributed to flowers in many cultures for thousands of years. Flower symbolism was very popular during the Victorian era and has gained popularity once again. “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh has been a much read and discussed novel with book clubs. Flower dictionaries have also been popular for a long time. The first language of flowers dictionary, “Le Langage des Fleurs,” was written by Charlotte de Latour in 1819 in France and it was so popular that many illustrated floral dictionaries popped up in France and across Europe, eventually making their way here. The contents are all similar — an alphabetical list of flowers with their symbolic meanings. Following are the colors of roses and their meaning:

  • Red — Strong romantic love, passion,
  • White — Innocence (young maiden),
  • Pink — Grace, admiration, joy,
  • Orange — Fascination, enthusiasm,
  • Yellow — It once symbolized jealousy or infidelity – now most sources say it means friendship or remembrance. 

Dear Master Gardener: I bought a Bromeliad and managed to kill it quite quickly. A friend said I wasn’t supposed to water the soil. How do you take care of one because I’d like to try again?

A Bromeliad plant.
Bromeliads are easy, slow-growing houseplants that add a dramatic splash of color to our winter homes.
Contributed / Jennifer Knutson

Answer: Bromeliads are tropical plants in the pineapple family. The flower is actually a long-lasting, colorful bract. Bromeliads are easy, slow-growing houseplants that add a dramatic splash of color to our winter homes! In order to survive and grow well, bromeliads need warm temperatures (at least 60-70 degrees). Bromeliads that form a rosette-shaped reservoir at the base of the plant need to have the reservoir filled with water at all times, being careful not to let water soak the soil. Bromeliads are prone to root rot if the soil is kept wet, so make sure your plant drains well and never sits in water.


The colorful bracts will last anywhere from several weeks to several months. When the color fades, the bromeliad will slowly die. Don’t worry! The plant will send up several “pups” alongside the plant. When the pups are about one-third the size of the parent plant, cut them apart and pot them up to form new plants. It will take about three to five years for them to show color.

Dear Master Gardener: My Swedish relatives grow lingonberries. Can we grow them in Minnesota?

Answer: Lingonberry is a member of the cranberry and blueberry family (Ericaceae). There are two types: the North American native, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, and its cultivated European cousin. The American (wild) lingonberry is shorter, blooms in the spring, and usually produces one crop per year. The European (cultivated) lingonberry flowers and produces berries twice per year. The wild lingonberry can be found in northern Minnesota in spruce and cedar sphagnum bogs. It is also found in Wisconsin, where it is an endangered species. In Newfoundland wild lingonberries are harvested commercially and they cannot keep up with the demand. In Europe there is a long history of cultivation where the majority of commercial harvesting is in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In North America, commercial planting of this fruit crop got its start in Wisconsin in the 1990s. It is slowly expanding into the colder areas of Canada and the United States.

Lingonberry plants are self-pollinating, but you will get larger fruit, and it will ripen sooner, if you plant more than one variety. Regal is a lingonberry cultivar known for large fruit, heavy flowering, and early yields and was hybridized by the University of Wisconsin. Plant lingonberries in the spring as soon as the soil is workable. They grow best, and you will get better fruit production, in full sun. Like blueberries, they require well-drained soil and low pH (4.0 – 5.5). Plant growth is typically slow the first year when the root system is getting established. Plants will start producing fruit in two to three years. Lingonberries are an excellent source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Dear Master Gardener: I just purchased an African violet but it didn’t come with instructions on how to water it. A friend said it should be watered from the bottom. What is the correct method of watering?

Answer: African violets are easy to grow houseplants. They reliably bloom several times a year when cared for properly. To water your plant, use room temperature distilled or rain water (or clean, melted snow) — never use softened or chlorinated water. Keep the potting mix moist at all times but not soggy. As with all houseplants, never let your African violet sit in water. Root rot from overwatering is one of the most common causes of the plant’s demise. Here are two options:

  1. Water from the top using a baster or watering can with a narrow spout. Carefully water the potting medium only and avoid getting any water on the leaves. If you get water droplets on the leaves, gently brush or shake them off.
  2. Water from the bottom by setting the pot in a bowl of room temperature water, one-inch deep. When the soil surface feels moist, remove the plant from the bowl of water and allow excess water to drain from the pot. 

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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