Growing And Caring For The Pocketbook Plant (Calceolaria)

The pocketbook flower, also known as Calceolaria, is an unusual flower with lantern-like blooms, available in shades of red, yellow, and orange, and it’s certain to brighten up any area.

These half-hardy perennials are perfect for summer outdoors, or for a beautiful houseplant. Many people grow this as a bedding plant to provide plenty of color, and fill in the gaps in borders and containers.

Not sure if the pocketbook plant is for you? Here’s what you need to know.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About Calceolaria

The calceolaria genus is made up of nearly 400 different species of flowering plants, including herbs, shrubs, and vines, native to Central and South America.

These plants can be demanding, especially if you live in a colder climate, but they are absolutely worth the effort, with their unmistakable flowers, often featuring spots or blotches in warm shades.

It is a fairly compact plant inside, reaching a maximum height of a foot tall, spreading about the same, though this depends on the species you go for, as some species are grown as ground cover, and others are taller ornamentals. 

You can grow them indoors or outdoors, and they are relatively inexpensive, especially if you start from scratch and grow them from seed.

Pocketbook Plant Cultivars To Consider Growing

There are many cultivars to consider when you want to grow a pocketbook plant. 

Some are sold as mixed seeds for bedding plants, so it can be difficult to source individual cultivars if you’re after something specific, unless you buy an established plant. 

Here are some of the most beautiful types you can grow.

Calceolaria integrifolia ‘Kentish Hero’

Flowering all through the summer, ‘Kentish Hero’ produces deep red to orange flowers in full sunlight. 

It’s better suited for outdoors, as it can reach 2 feet tall, but there’s nothing to stop you experimenting with growing it indoors. 

If you do want to grow it outside, it’s worth noting that this plant is hardy in many places, provided that you keep it dry during the winter.

Calceolaria ‘John Innes’

A hybrid between Calceolaria plantaginea and Calceolaria polyrrhiza, this is a frost-hardy plant which is perfect for rockeries or containers. It features lemon-yellow lantern-like flowers, with purple spots.

It is low-growing, barely reaching 20cm tall, so it’s perfect for ground cover if you want to grow it outdoors.

Others To Consider

The most common type of Calceolaria which have great ornamental plants is in the Herbeohybrida group, usually sold as mixed seeds, though you will find some established plants, too.

Other species of Calceolaria you might grow include:

  • Calceolaria australia
  • Calceolaria bentae
  • Calceolaria obtusa
  • Calceolaria lanata
  • Calceolaria grandiflora
  • Calceolaria sericea
  • Calceolaria tomentosa

Can You Propagate Calceolaria?

The easiest way to start off with the pocketbook plant is to grow it from seed. Sow them in early spring, or between spring and summer in a good-quality seed compost.

Don’t be tempted to cover the seeds with compost like you would with other seeds, as Calceolaria seeds need light in order to germinate. 

Instead, scatter them onto the surface of the soil, and cover the tray with a propagation lid or clear bag to help keep the environment warm and humid.

Place the container somewhere bright but indirect, preferably at a stable temperature of 75°F. You’ll see the seedlings emerge as quickly as two weeks, or more likely, just over three weeks. 

Once the seedlings are big enough and have grown true sets of leaves (leaves that are the same shape as an adult pocketbook plant), you can transfer them into individual containers. 

If you already have a pocketbook plant growing, you can take some root cuttings after the plant has stopped flowering, but the easiest way to grow new pocketbook plants is to raise them from seed.

How To Grow Slipperwort

Slipperwort is perfect for containers, whether that’s inside or outside. They are popular balcony plants, thanks to their compact growth habit.

Most people grow slipperwort as an annual plant, as the flowers are at their best during their first season.

Some varieties are hardy to frost, while others are tender, so it’s worth keeping them in a sheltered position where possible, as it can be difficult to tell between them. 

Sunlight And Position

If you’re growing this fabulous plant indoors, keep it in a bright place that has no sources of heat, drafts, or direct sunlight. This is the key to keeping your plant happy – too much of any extremes will cause this plant to suffer, wilt and eventually die.

Outdoors, they can tolerate some sunlight, but they do better in a semi-shaded position. 

Pop them on a patio, balcony, or keep them in a greenhouse or conservatory for best results, away from strong winds and cold temperatures.

Soil Needs

Above all, the soil needs to be well-draining to sustain a pocketbook plant, as too much water will rot the roots.

Otherwise, normal houseplant compost, or good quality garden soil will do for this plant.

How To Keep The Pocketbook Plant Healthy

Slipperwort does have a reputation of being difficult to care for, but once you understand what the plant needs, it is fairly easy to keep it healthy and thriving. 

Be Consistent With Watering

It’s especially important to be consistent with your watering schedule while you’re keeping the pocketbook plant as a houseplant. 

Containers can quickly become waterlogged, which is exactly what you don’t want with this plant, as it can mean the death of the plant very rapidly.

Water when the top inch or so of the soil has dried out, as this plant cannot tolerate too-dry compost for long. But don’t go overboard and soak the plant, as too much water will rot the roots.

Outdoors, keep an eye on the soil. If you’re growing this plant in the ground, it’s likely to only need watering during dry weather, as moisture evaporates more slowly than it does in containers.

If you’re keeping this plant in a pot outside, keep an eye on the moisture levels, and you may have to water it as often as once a week in the growing season, depending on the growing conditions.

Should You Feed A Pocketbook Plant?

It’s not necessary to feed a pocketbook plant. However, if you want to give a houseplant pocketbook flower a boost, use a general houseplant fertilizer when the plant is putting out active growth, in spring and summer.

Use only a weak dose, and don’t do this more than a couple of times per season, otherwise the plant may not flower at all.

Deadheading The Flowers

It’s a good idea to remove spent flowers from your pocketbook plant, as this will extend the flowering season. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry about pruning this plant at all.

Pests And Diseases To Watch Out For

Typical houseplant pests may affect your pocketbook flower, including the likes of aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites. Treat at the first sign of infestation, and your plant should recover without any problems.

One of the most common diseases that affects this plant is root rot. Be very careful about overwatering your plant, as this will lead to plant death. 

It’s a tricky balance to strike, as the pocketbook flower doesn’t like drying out, but if you water moderately when the top inch of the soil is dry, this should help stop root rot from occurring.

Final Thoughts

Calceolaria is a striking plant worthy of anyone’s must-grow list, though it can be difficult to understand what this plant wants in the beginning. 

Once you get the conditions right, it will reward you with unique flowers shaped a little like lanterns or balloons, in cheery shades of yellow, orange, and red.

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