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How to Grow Pocketbook Plant — Calceolaria

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Calceolaria bears vividly colored and unusual pouched flowers that are reminiscent of old-fashioned pocketbooks—thus the common name pocketbook plant.

Calceolaria is native to Central and South America and is commonly grown indoors as a houseplant except in warm-winter Zones 10 and 11 and warmer. The genus includes about 500 species of annuals and perennials that vary in hardiness.

Some Calceolaria is low-growing and well-suited for rock gardens. Others are taller and can be grown in summer beds and borders when they add bright colors and unusual bloom shapes.

Calceolaria integrifolia
Calceolaria integrifolia

Get to know Calceolaria

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Growing zones and range: Grow Calceolaria outdoors annually in all zones. Perennials can be grown outdoors in Zones 10 and 11.
  • Hardiness: Protect Calceolaria from chilly temperatures.
  • Optimal growing temperature: Night temperatures of 50° to 60°F (10°-16°C)
  • Height and width:  3 to 36 inches (7.6-91cm) tall 8 to 20 (20-50cm) or more widely depending on the variety.
  • Foliage: Dark green crinkly leaves
  • Flowers: Loose clusters of small pouchlike or slipperlike flowers, usually yellow but sometimes red-bronze or spotted with red or orange-brown.
  • Bloom time: Spring and summer
  • Flower colors: Yellow, red, maroon, and pink — often with spots.
  • Uses: Houseplant, edging plant, or massed as specimens in beds and borders.
  • Common name: Calceolaria, pocketbook plant, slipperwort
  • Botanical name: Calceolaria
  • Family name: Calceolariaceae
  • Origin: Mexico to Chile
Calceolaria Herbeohybrida Group hybrids
Calceolaria Herbeohybrida Group hybrids

Where to plant Calceolaria

  • Calceolaria likes bright light but does not like the hot sun.
  • Sow the seed of hardy evergreen perennials in gritty, humus-rich soil; do not let the soil dry out.
  • Plant Calceolaria in a sheltered location away from the wind.
  • Calceolaria will suffer in the heat.
  • Grow members of the C. Herbeohybrida Group indoors or in a heated greenhouse.

When to plant Calceolaria

  • Set Calceolaria in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed; set them out in fall in mild-winter climates.
  • Sow seeds of hardy evergreen perennials in a cold frame in autumn or early spring.
  • Sow seed of C. Herbeohybrida Group in gentle heat in spring or late summer.
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings of C. integrifolia in late spring or summer.

Planting and spacing Calceolaria

  • Space Calceolaria 10 to 24 inches (25-61cm) apart depending on the variety.
Calceolaria integrifolia
Calceolaria integrifolia

How to water and feed Calceolaria

  • Keep the soil evenly moist, never allowing the soil to dry out completely.
  • Plants grown indoors should be misted twice daily, but not directly on the flowers.
  • Fertilize Calceolaria weekly when not in bloom with a mild liquid fertilizer.

Calceolaria care

  • Protect plants growing outdoors from wind and direct hot sun.
  • Cut Calceolaria back after flowering and plants may bloom again.

Growing Calceolaria as a houseplant

  • Calceolaria needs indirect light, a cool room, and average humidity.
  • Grow Calceolaria in a rich potting medium, and allow the medium to dry out between waterings.
  • When watering, do not allow after to touch the leaves or the leaves may rot.
  • Fertilize Calceolaria once a month when the plants are growing, and stop fertilizing when the flower buds have set.

Calceolaria pests and diseases

  • Aphids and slugs can be a problem.
  • Gray mold infects old flowers and leaves, especially of the hardy evergreen perennials.
Pocketbook plant, Calceolaria in a pot
Pocketbook plant, Calceolaria in a pot

Calceolaria propagation

  • When growing Calceolaria from seed, sow seed in late spring to early fall for blooming the following winter and spring. Be sure to maintain a night temperature below 50°F (10°C) or flower buds will not form.
  • Sow seeds uncovered at 70°F (21°C); germination will occur in about 16 days.
  • Sow the seed of hardy evergreen perennials in gritty, humus-rich soil; do not let the soil dry out.
  • Sow seeds of hardy evergreen perennials in a cold frame in autumn or early spring.
  • Sow seed of C. Herbeohybrida Group in gentle heat in spring or late summer.
  • Seedlings are susceptible to damping-off; when transplanting them, do not plant them too deep or stem rot will occur.
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings of C. integrifolia in late spring or summer.

Calceolaria varieties to grow

  • Calceolaria crenatiflora, Herbeohybrida Group: Annuals and houseplants; these are florists’ calceolaria; masses of velvety, inch-long yellow or red flowers, often spotted and marbled’ grow to 30 inches (76cm) tall, but some strains are only half as high. ‘Anytime’ series is more heat tolerant.
  • C. integrifolia: Woody-based plant grows to 36 inches (91cm) tall; clusters of yellow to red-brown, unspotted flowers; cultivars include ‘Golden Nugget’ with pure yellow flowers and ‘Kentish Hero’ with orange-red to brown flowers.

Calceolaria frequently asked questions

Q: How do I grow Calceolaria successfully indoors?

A: Calceolaria needs a cool room with average humidity and indirect light. Grow Calceolaria in a rich potting medium, and all the medium to dry out between waterings. (Do not wet the leaves.) Fertilize once a month when the plant is growing and stop fertilizing when the flower buds have set.

Q: What is the best temperature for growing Calceolaria?

A: Calceolaria grows best at 50° to 60°F.

Q: What light does Calceloaria like?

A: Grow Calceloaria in bright light away from direct sunlight.

Q: How do I water Calceolaria?

A: Keep the potting medium moist at all times. Stand the pot on a pebble tray or surround it with moist peat. Mist occasionally but do not wet the leaves.

Q: Can I grow Calceolaria from seed?

A: Growing Calceolaria from seed is not easy. Sow the fine seeds on the surface of level sand soil in a pot in summer. Place the pot in full shade and do not let the soil dry out. Transplant the tiny seedlings into a flat and keep them in a shaded place. Pot up the young plants in late fall and move them to a bright place with temperatures around 40° to 45°F at night. Temperatures above 50°F will likely mean failure.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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