University of Illinois Extension

“Cool” Holiday Gift Plants

Everyone likes to receive “cool” things as gifts but when it comes to flowering gift plants, the term “cool’ can be taken very literally, says Greg Stack, a U of I Extension horticulturist.
“There are some flowering gift plants that show up in the marketplace during the holidays that appear when temperatures are cool to cold outdoors,” said Greg Stack. “Holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day often have some really spectacular flowering plants that just don’t show up when the weather is warm.”

The reason for this is simple. These plants grow and perform their best when temperatures are cool. Greenhouse growers who provide these wonderful plants find them easier to produce when temperatures in their greenhouses can be kept on the cool side.

“Not only do we get some really special looking plants, the grower can take advantage of turning down the thermostat while still being able to bring some color into our lives,” he said.
For those lucky enough to get one of these “cool” flowering plants, here are some tips on how to get the most from the plant.

The cyclamen is an attractive plant with heart shaped leaves often with white markings. The abundant flowers look like shooting stars and range from white to pink to red. Not only does the plant come loaded with bloom, but there are many buds capable of producing extended color for three to four months.

“When you get the plant give it a spot with indirect light and a cool location--50-60 degrees,” he said. “This is key to extending the flowering period as warmer temperatures result in buds failing to open.

“If the plant comes with a decorative foil wrapper, punch holes in the bottom of the foil to allow water to drain when you water. Never allow the plant to wilt. Keep the soil uniformly moist. When you do water, water from the side so water will not get into the center of the ‘bulb’ and cause it to rot.”

Cineraria and calceolarias are two seed-grown flowering plants that often show up for the Easter and Mother’s Day holiday.

“Cineraria is a spectacular flowering plant that produces masses of daisy like flowers in red, pink, blue, violet and white that are held like a nosegay above the foliage,” said Stack. “These plants will last longest if placed where they get indirect light and temperatures at about 50 degrees. Higher temperatures will shorten their life quickly.

“Constant soil moisture is also critical for maintaining quality. If soils are allowed to dry they quickly wilt and are severely damaged so water thoroughly when you do water. With good care, blooms should last for several weeks then they naturally decline and should be discarded.”

Calceolarias are another flowering plant that shows up from about Valentine’s Day through Easter. Its unique oval, balloon-like flowers that are often speckled with contrasting colors has earned it the nickname “pocketbook plant.” Calceolaria are handled much the same way cineraria are handled. While watering is critical, don’t overwater as it quickly leads to root rot problems shortening their useful life.

Calceolaria are definitely unique and will make you stop and look at them but regard them as you would a bouquet of flowers, to be enjoyed while they last and then discarded.

“Primrose is one of those flowering gift plants you can treat yourself to most anytime from later winter to early spring,” he said. “You don’t need a special holiday as they are often grown for the mass market to be enjoyed as a winter or spring color pick me up.

“Primroses are small plants with green quilted leaves that offer a nice contrast for the colorful bunch of flowers held in clusters toward the center of the plant. Primrose often has numerous buds capable of putting on a show for two to three months with proper care. They prefer a spot with indirect high light and a temperature of about 55-60 degrees. They like a moist soil so water when the soil is dry to the touch but don’t let the plant stand in water or let it dry out to the point of wilting. This will shorten their life considerably.”

For Mother’s Day there is a geranium that always is a show stopper. The Martha Washington geranium is a flowering plant that can justify being called gorgeous. The individual flowers are large, borne in clusters and often resemble pansies. While it is spectacular, it really should be enjoyed for the moment and not expected to do much during the summer as other geraniums do. Keep it in a bright light location and where temperatures are cool (55-60 degrees). After blooming you will find that the plant often fails to re-bloom in the garden, because buds are set only at temperatures below 55 degrees. During the summer in warmer climates, temperatures like that are unlikely so you end up with a green bush and no flowers.

“Even though flowering gift plants are meant to be enjoyed and then transitioned to the compost pile, many recipients will try to get their gifts to re-bloom,” he said. “Of those mentioned here the one that might be worth a try at re-blooming is the cyclamen.

“After flowering, gradually withhold the water and allow the foliage to die back. This begins the rest period. Place the pot in a cool, dark location and do not water for 6-8 weeks.”

After six to eight weeks bring the pot into good light and start watering. When the weather outdoors begins to warm up place the pot outside in a lightly shaded area, maintain through watering and fertilize once every two weeks or so. Move the plant indoors before frost and place in a bright location. Plants treated this way should re-bloom by midwinter.

“So, it you want to give a “cool” gift look for one of these springtime flowering gift plants,” said Stack. “Enjoy it for the season and then long for next year when they will reappear when temperatures are again cool.”