By Jeff Rugg Creators Syndicate Inc.
By now you surely know that Valentine’s Day was a few days ago. If you haven’t given flowers and need to make up for it, you may want to give a whole plant. Or maybe you bought a plant and want to know how to keep it alive.
Several potted flowering plants are usually given as gifts from Valentine’s Day through Easter to Mother’s Day. Azalea, calceolaria, cineraria, cyclamen, hydrangea and kalanchoes all make beautiful flowering gift plants. One of the reasons they are all available at this time of year is that they grow under the same conditions. They all prefer to have bright light from an east window or bright artificial light. A daytime temperature between 60 and 70 degrees is best, and a little cooler at night is fine.
Both the azalea and the hydrangea are shrubs that can be planted outdoors in the summer, but will generally not survive the winter if planted outdoors in cold climates. They can be brought in during the winter where they might bloom again. I got azaleas as a gift that last for several years when put out in the summer and brought inside in the fall to protect them from the cool temperatures. They tend to bloom in the fall and sometimes again in mid-winter. If they are not repotted, they need fertilizer. Either way, they tend to fade over time as they have fewer leaves and some branches die off.
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Cyclamen is a tuber that needs a dry rest period after flowering. Keep the soil moist until May, then let it dry out. Flowers and leaves wither and fall. In September, repot and water the tuber and keep it moist until May. It is one of the most difficult bulbs to bloom again. It may not even arrive on May Day because it tends to rot if overwatered.
Calceolaria is called the pocket plant because of its multicolored, pocket-shaped flowers. Cineraria has flowers that look like chrysanthemums, but they come in many unusual colors, including many pastel shades. Both of these plants are treated as annuals and are often removed after flowering. Both can be grown easily from seed by saving some of the flowers and planting them in the spring. Start them in small pots first and as they root, move them to larger pots.
If you get bulbous plants, such as daffodils and hyacinths, keep the soil moist. They should be as cool as possible; even in the 50s, it’s OK. After flowering, keep them in bright light and cool temperatures until they can be planted outdoors. If the leaves turn yellow and die, do not discard the bulb. Let it rest in a dry place until autumn or plant it in the garden in spring, but in any case it may not come back the following spring.
If you get an amaryllis bulb, give it bright light and keep the soil moist until spring. Grow it outdoors all summer. In the fall, let the soil dry out and the leaves fall off for a few months, then repot it in new soil and start watering it again.
The kalanchoe can have pink, purple, orange, red, white or yellow flowers. The flowers may start blooming before Christmas and last until spring. It is a succulent plant that can tolerate dry soil, but if it flowers, dry soil can cause the flowers to wilt and die prematurely.
This is the easiest of all Valentine’s flowering plants to bloom again. As each flower cluster dies, cut it off. When they are all gone, the plant is a beautiful houseplant. Next fall, put it in a dimly lit place at night, or put it in a closet or room with no light. The plant will bloom again if given six weeks of 14-hour long nights. If the plant gets too big, the ends of the branches can be cut off and they will root easily in potting soil or sand.
Email your questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected]