Extension publication offers insight to specialty plants

Published 10:05 am Monday, February 5, 2024

By Mark Carroll

Contributing writer


What is a specialty plant? 

I came across a Virginia Cooperative Extension publication titled, “Care of Specialty Potted Plants,” that is available online at bit.ly/42qf6Ug

So, I thought I could introduce you to something different from my personal expertise. I started by asking myself as I asked you, “What is a specialty plant?” I found a lot of information about specialty crops, but potted plants really do not seem like crops. 

I looked at the reference linked in the photo hoping that definition would be included, it wasn’t but they loosely referred to them as gift plants. Further they explain that these plants are frequently grown in ideal conditions in a greenhouse, until we buy them and take them home, where these ideal conditions no longer exist, and they likely will not live from year to year, without tailored attention.

These plants are essentially considered disposable ones used until they no longer thrive. This does not mean you can’t save them or plant them in better conditions, just that you need to learn the requirements for the plant’s success, ensure you provide those conditions, and they are not as easy in our homes as it may be in other environments. 

Now that we have some idea of what kinds of plants are specialty plants, we can discuss some of the plants that fall into that category. The previously mentioned article includes the following 10 plants and some of the considerations:

  • Poinsettias – only 15 degrees temperature range (60-75), no drafts,and proper watering.
  • Azaleas – Direct sunlight, moist not soggy soil, ph more acidic than alkaline, don’t use softened water. 
  • Gardenias – Also need acidic soil, high temps and low light cause buds to drop.
  • Amaryllis – Full sun, warm nights like most of the others, need indoor/outdoor exposure rotations.
  • Christmas Cactus – Varying water and light requirements depending on the season and temperatures.
  • Cyclamen – Full sunlight, need lots of water, repot each year with the tuber peeking slightly out of the soil.
  • Gerbera Daisy – Bright light but limited full sun exposure, repotting and dividing as necessary, allow soil to dry thoroughly between waterings.
  • Calceolaria – Bright light but no direct sunlight in order to flower, cool environment, with moist soil conditions.
  • Kalancho – Grow under bright lights with short periods of direct sunlight especially in the winter, water sparingly in the summer and drier soil in the winter.

A couple of reminders. These are abbreviated recommendations for the full write up review. There are also many similar plants with which these recommendations can be applied. 

For example, there are many different types of holiday cacti, these recommendations would apply to most or all of them. Also, read the tag that comes with the plant as varieties may respond differently to these recommendations. 

In the words of Tim Ferris, “Mastery is a journey, not a destination. True masters never believe they have attained mastery. There is always more to be learned and greater skill to be developed.” 

We may learn more by getting out of our gardening comfort zone and trying to care for specialty plants.


Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.