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Give a plant for a Valentine's Day gift

Ask people to tell you the first thing they think of when they say "Valentine's Day," and you're likely to get a lot of "red roses," fancy-boxed chocolates" or "champagne." But you can add another to this list: "blooming houseplants."...

Ask people to tell you the first thing they think of when they say "Valentine's Day," and you're likely to get a lot of "red roses," fancy-boxed chocolates" or "champagne." But you can add another to this list: "blooming houseplants."

Flowers aren't just for Valentine's Day observed next Thursday, either. Our winters can become long by mid-February, and flowers in any form are most welcome. They can be the traditional red rose bouquets or other options including arrangements of carnations, daisies or other spring flowers. Or, beaus might select from pots of tulips, daffodils or other spring bulbs.

Guys like floral gifts, too. These blooming houseplants will continue to brighten our homes and offices well into spring and even longer.

Plant options

African violets, gloxinias and cyclamen are among three houseplants that are possible gift candidates. With minimal care, these houseplants can be a constant remainder of someone's love for you. These plants can be found at garden centers or other outlets.

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African violetsBecause they are compact, easy-to-grow, adaptable, thrive in average home conditions, come in a wide variety of colors, are long-lived and bloom for months at a time are some of the reasons African violets are the most popular houseplants.

Originally from East Africa, they can now be found in a wide range of colors and sizes. When selecting an African violet, look for a plant that fills the container. Leaves should be thick, strong and fuzzy with few nicks or tears. If not already in bloom, look into the crown of the plant for developing buds.

The African violet does best in strong, indirect light. They like to be kept moist, but can dry out slightly between watering periods. They grow best in a light, well-drained peat-based potting soil. There are special fertilizers formulated for African violets.

Repot frequently. Common problems include too much water or cold water, powdery mildew, not enough light, too much direct sun, not enough fertilizer and lack of humidity. African violets are easy to propagate from leaf cuttings.

GloxiniasA gloxinia makes a spectacular gift, so that's often how we get our first one. A cousin of the African violet, this houseplant has huge, deep-throated blooms above large, dark green and deeply textured leaves. While most purchase a plant already started, skilled gardeners can purchase gloxinia tubers for planting. The tuber can bloom a time or two before losing its vigor.

Gloxinia requirements are about the same as for African violets. They are best watered from beneath using the saucer method. After an hour or so, pour off the excess. They like the same temperatures we do. They prefer high humidity, but don't like misting. Instead, place the houseplant on a humidity tray for a period. They can be fed weekly, but stop when blooming halts.

Once your gloxinia stops blooming (blooming season lasts six to eight weeks), reduce watering. The leaves will yellow and dry as the plant goes dormant. Store the pot in a cool, dry place.

When new growth begins in a few months, resume watering and place it back in a sunny spot to bloom again. Sucking insects or spray damage with water can be problems. Gloxinias are propagated from leaf cuttings as you would with African violets.

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CyclamenThis wonderful blooming plant produces a succession of uniquely delicate flowers that are held well above their foliage. Their colors are great and the flowers last. The leaves are heart-shaped and have distinctive markings.

Originally an unimposing plant from Greece, cyclamen now are available in shades of white, pink, red and purple. The nodding blooms have five petals that reflex backward. The throats of the flowers often are a darker color. There also are miniature versions available.

When selecting a cyclamen, look for a plant with lots of foliage, strong stems and flower buds. The plant should have open flowers and buds emerging from under the leaves in the plant center. Leaves should be stiff and glossy.

Care requirements are similar to both African violets and gloxinias. Keep no warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, especially when in bloom. They will tolerate temperatures as low as 50 degrees F. They like high humidity so use a tray; misting can cause spotting on leaves, especially in bright light.

The Prairie Gardener has had cyclamen bloom for a year or longer with proper care. But once they have completed flowering, cut back on water and fertilizer for a few months.

As the leaves begin to fade, simply set the plant in its original pot in a cool, dry place for about six weeks. Do not repot it. After it has rested, bring it back out and begin watering and fertilizing. Cyclamen grow from a corm with its top just at the soil surface. Getting repeat bloom can be a challenge.

Signs of trouble include yellowing of leaves, caused by too much warmth, not enough light or when plants are kept too wet. It is prone to several sucking insects including the cyclamen mite, which is too small to see, but can cause distorted foliage. Moldy appearing leaves are caused by botrylis, also known as water mold. Water on leaves can cause brown spots.

Garden briefsBrian Baher will discuss digital photography in the garden when the Grand Forks Horticulture Society meets at 10 a.m. Feb. 16 at the East Grand Forks Campbell Library, 422 Fourth St. N.W. The business meeting is at 9:30 a.m. Both are free and open to the public.

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Gardening tips-- Check stored dahlia, gladiolus and canna roots or corms for spoilage or shriveling. Occasionally, sprinkle lightly with tepid water. Some seeds that require an early start, such as geraniums, can be started indoors now.

-- Check protected perennials and other non-hardy plants to make sure the mulch is still in place. You can heap snow over these plants, which will provide additional protection.

-- Check fruit trees for possible vole, rabbit or deer damage and take appropriate measures. A major concern would be complete bark removal from the base of the tree. If a few branch tips are nipped off, don't worry.

-- The 25th anniversary of the Grand Forks Horticulture Club will be observed in 2009, with preparations now underway.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. His column is published every other Saturday. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks, ND 58206-6008.

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