By Ellen Barcel
Spring is the time when plants in full bloom become popular gifts — there’s Easter and Mother’s Day in particular. I remember my father always bringing a plant to his mother on Mother’s Day. Sometimes events, such as showers, use potted, blooming plants as table decorations. But, the question becomes, how does one care for these gift plants, especially after the flowers have faded?
◆ First, keep the plant indoors, especially if it’s still cold, as long as it has flowers. Keep it out of drafts and in a bright location. If specific instructions come with the plant, then do follow them.
◆ While some plants can eventually be moved to your garden as the weather warms, not all will be cold hardy. Again, read the instructions that come with the plant.
◆ It is important to keep the leaves growing on forced bulbs, so don’t cut them down when the flowers have faded. Those leaves are producing food for the bulbs for next year.
◆ Water the gift plant as needed. Many times stores don’t always water them enough, either to keep them light weight for sale or because they just don’t think to do it. I recently received a gorgeous hyacinth plant but the soil was bone dry. The first thing I did was water it when I got it home.
◆ Select an appropriate location in your garden and, when it’s warm enough, transplant the gift into the soil, if appropriate.
Forced tulips make great gift plants. When they have finished blooming, move them out to the garden, but remember the squirrels just love tulip bulbs. A friend of mine noted that she stopped trying to plant tulips in her garden, saying, “I might as well just hand the bulbs to the squirrels.” If you have found a way around this problem, move them into the soil so next year you’ll have a lovely display. Once the leaves have died down, usually mid-summer, they can be removed, but not before.
Daffodils are also very popular as forced gift plants. They have the advantage of being distasteful to squirrels. I have a small clump of miniature daffodils that were given to me in a pot many years ago by a friend for my birthday. I planted them outside and year after year they come back, earlier than any other daffodils, beautiful and sunny. One way of trying to keep squirrels away from your tulips is to ring the tulips with daffodils, sort of hiding the tulips from the hungry rodents.
Hyacinths are known for being among the earliest to bloom in spring and with having a beautiful, sweet scent. As with daffodils, keep the leaves growing and, once the flowers have died back, move the plant to a sunny place in the garden.
Hydrangeas are another popular gift plant. Check the tag that comes with the plant carefully, as not all hydrangeas are cold hardy in our area. I saw an absolutely gorgeous intense, blue-flowered one a number of years ago, and almost bought it, only to notice that it was cold hardy in zones 8 and above. It would not have survived our winters. However, if it’s not cold hardy, it can be used as an annual. Hydrangeas, in general, don’t like an extremely sunny location, or drought, so when you move them outside, take this into consideration.
Easter lilies are generally cold hardy in zones 7 and up (i.e., warmer climates), so you can try to move your Easter lilies outside into the garden. But, while this is in theory, in practice, I’ve never had them overwinter outside, so I generally treat them as annuals.
Azaleas are beautiful gift plants with some added benefits. In general, they are cold hardy on Long Island, so this is a really great gift for the avid gardener. If year after year you give Mom another azalea, in just a few years, her garden will be filled with beautiful, spring-flowering shrubs. Another advantage of azaleas is that some varieties are evergreens so that they make nice foundation plantings, growing larger and filled with more flowers each year.
The sweet scent of a gardenia plant draws many to it as a gift plant. Most gardenias are hardy in zones 8 to 11 (Long Island is zone 7), meaning that you can grow them outside only in the mild weather. Come autumn you must bring the plant indoors and grow it as a houseplant. This means you need to keep it potted, rather than planted in the soil. There are some varieties, ‘Kleim’s Hardy,’ for example, that claim to be hardy into zone 7, but as with Easter lilies, you’re taking a chance that they will survive our winters. I’d rather keep a beautiful gardenia as a houseplant.
So, enjoy those gift plants, but follow through appropriately.
Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.