GV Gardeners: Living Valentine gifts for the gardener

A beautiful dwarf "Cimarron" Texas Ranger will perk up even small landscapes, especially when densely covered with dazzling blue-purple flowers.

Can’t decide on an appropriate Valentine gift for that special someone, or perhaps for yourself? Currently, florists, garden centers and nurseries are brimming with lots of live choices that can please a gardener.

Consider chocolate, a traditional expression of love usually presented in a bright red, heart-shaped cellophane-covered box. Instead think of giving perennial Chocolate Flower plants (Berlandiera lyrata) with the same seductive sweet scent of real chocolate, but without the fat or calories! These pretty plants were used by native people for flavoring prior to cocoa’s introduction. They grow 1 to 2 feet high and produce small yellow, daisy-like flowers with soft brown centers. Wouldn’t that look special in a cobalt blue Talavera container?

Another garden perennial is the very popular, winter-blooming Valentine Emu Bush (Eremophila maculata, “Valentine”). This compact Emu matures at 4 feet high, is drought tolerant, cold hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideal for the xeric gardens of our cool season visitors. Presently it is covered in purple-tinged foliage and deep magenta blossoms which can last through April.

A suggestion for your year-around desert dweller valentine is the dwarf Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum zygophyllum). Be certain that you are considering the dwarf version, which is marketed under several variety names. For several years The Arid Garden has been home to a 3 feet high and wide evergreen shrub called “Cimarron.” This variety has cupped, gray-green leaves and dense masses of amazing blue-purple flowers.

Dwarf Cimarron Texas Ranger blooms on and off throughout summer into autumn during even short periods of high humidity. It prefers full sun, can take reflected heat, and is cold hardy down to 10 degrees F. Cimarron prefers low water, so plant in well-drained soil and be careful to not overwater.

In case your valentine does not have outdoor space for landscape plants, there is a smaller choice just right for the kitchen counter, desktop or windowsill. A favorite for years, Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) grows to approximately 8 inches high, and is covered with pink, red, or white flowers with petals that sweep upward like butterfly wings above the foliage. Perfect for a valentine, its heart-shaped leaves are dark green with soft silvery markings.

With proper care, cheerful Cyclamen plants can bloom and live for years. Water when the soil feels dry; avoid getting water on the plant crown. When the flowers begin to fade, it is telling you it is entering a dormant period, so allow the plant to slowly dry out over the next two to three months. When new growth appears, resume watering and fertilize every couple of weeks. Keep in indirect or filtered sun, and get ready to enjoy the next flowering cycle.

There is still time to choose a live plant for your loved one, a special friend or neighbor, or to deservedly brighten the season for yourself. Happy Valentine's Day!

Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.

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