Firecracker plant also known as Russelia Equisetiformis, Fountainbush, Coral plant, Coral fountain, Coralblow and Fountain plant, is an evergreen perennial from the Plantaginaceae family, naturally distributed throughout Latin America, Mexico, and Guatemala.
The plant belongs to the genus Rusellia, named after the Scottish botanist Alexander Russell.
The various plant names describe its distinctive fountain-like form or the intense coral-red color of its flowers. As red is the color of love, it is not surprising that in Spanish, it is called Lagrimas de Amor or, in translation, Cupid’s tears or tears of love.
What Is Firecracker Plant
The Firecracker plant is a bushy perennial with green branched or arched, lavishly arranged stems. Small oval, green leaves resembling horsetail leaves (lat. equisetum) give the plant a sophisticated, filigree lacy look. For these tiny leaves longitudinally adorned on the stem, the plant is often called Firecracker fern. Since the Firecracker plant in nature grows to a height of five feet and the same width, it can be found under the names Firecracker bush and Firecracker shrub.
From late spring until the first frosts on the tops of the stems appear bright red, oblong-trumpet, drooping flowers. Each Firecracker flower is only one inch long. Although plants with coral red blooms are most common, there are varieties with white, pink, or orange flowers.
After pollination, the fruits resembling ovoid capsules containing Firecracker plant seeds develop from the flowers.
How To Care for Firecracker Plant
Growing Russelia is simple since the plant does not require excessive or special attention. It can be grown both in pots and in the ground, depending on the climate.
In the northern hemisphere Firecracker plant, like oleander, is a potted plant that can spend the summer outdoors but must be protected and placed indoors during the winter.
Since gardening requires little knowledge and experience and much more will, below we bring you essential tips for the cultivation of this weeping beauty.
– Firecracker Plant Light Requirements
In its natural environment, Firecracker plants grow in open fields illuminated by the sun from morning to night, or you can see them along the edges of forests, partially shaded.
When it grows in the house, it needs a lot of light, so place it next to the south window. It does not mean that the plant will not thrive in less bright places. However, if you want to see its spectacular flowers, give it the best-lightened position possible.
Only plants that receive sufficient amounts of light develop a vigorous leaf mass and produce numerous coral flowers. If you do not have such a position, you can use artificial lighting at a safe distance since the heat that spreads from artificial lamps can damage the foliage.
In the second half of spring, when the danger of late frosts passes and the nights get warm, you could take the plant outside, on the balcony, or in the yard. Choose a moderately lit position until the plant adapts to outdoor conditions. Later, when it hardens, you can move it to a sunnier spot.
– Firecracker Plant Soil
As indoor plants, the Firecracker plant is not picky and generally tolerates different types of soil. You can plant it in an all-purpose substrate for houseplants mixed with garden soil, perlite, or sand for better permeability. Soil for Firecracker plant must not be too heavy and too compacted.
The pH value is not particularly important either since apart from ultimately acidic or basic soils, the plant can adapt to different values.
For better growth, you can enrich the soil with organic materials such as compost or worm castings. Yet, the plant will grow without this luxury.
– Firecracker Plant Water Requirements
Firecracker plant requires regular watering during the growth phase. Adequate hydration is a vital factor in their cultivation.
Plants that grow in open ground can reach the water below the soil surface with their roots, so you do not have to water them like plants that grow in pots. The latter ones depend on the water you put in the substrate and have no alternative.
Therefore, add water once a week from spring to fall. Adult plants are more tolerant to a lack of water, but it is better not to taste their resistance. It means they will not die if you skip watering Firecracker plant from time to time, but even hydration contributes to a healthier, more lush, and resilient plant.
How often you water the plants in the winter period primarily depends on the temperature of the room in which it is located. In colder rooms, you can water it once or twice during the winter so that the substrate is not completely dry.
Low temperature and humidity are a dangerous combination and can cause plant decay. In a heated room, water the plant once a month. The lack of natural light encourages the plant to rest, so your Firecracker plant needs only enough water to maintain its fundamental functions.
– Firecracker Plant temperature
Firecracker plants come from warm areas with mild winters and can not tolerate low temperatures of continental climate. As a garden plant that overwinters in the soil, it can only grow in climate zones 9b through 11. In these areas, the temperature rarely drops below the freezing point. Still, even there, it is advisable to mulch the base of the plant to protect the root from hypothermia.
In other regions, it is necessary to shelter the plant in autumn and winter months. If you keep it outside during the summer, you should bring the plant into the house as soon as the night temperature drops below 55 F. The optimum range is from 65 to 75 F.
The plant can overwinter in a less heated space such as loggias, hallways, or enclosed porches. Yet, if it stays at a temperature of around 55 F for weeks, it will survive but start to grow later in spring and probably bloom later.
– Firecracker Plant Humidity
The Firecracker plant tolerates standard indoor humidity levels in the range of 30 to 40 percent and usually does not need additional humidification. Yet, prolonged stay in an environment where the humidity level is below 30 percent can cause the leaves to dry out and fall off.
Therefore, it is advisable to mist its leaves occasionally. You can also place the plant on a water-pebble tray to get extra moisture.
– Firecracker Plant Fertilizer
Since it is a heavy bloomer, the Firecracker plant needs a lot of energy and a lot of nourishing materials. It quickly consumes the available nutrients from the soil and consequently requires regular fertilization for abundant flowering and growth.
Feed it twice a month with a balanced liquid fertilizer that you have diluted to half the recommended dose. Apply this supplement only during the growing and flowering phase. When the plant stops blooming, you can feed it once more before the winter. After that, stop the process until next spring. Accumulation of nutrients in the substrate that the plant will not use during the dormant phase can damage its roots.
– Firecracker Plant Potting and Repotting
The Firecracker plant grows fast. It can even be grown as an annual garden plant which means that it goes through a phase of seedlings to adult, flowering one during one season. Due to such accelerated metabolism, the plant quickly consumes nutrients from the soil, and you should transplant it every spring or late winter in a new, fresh substrate.
If you have a large adult specimen, you can remove the peripheral part of the root when transplanting. Of course, the shortened portion should not be more than one-third of the total root mass. Otherwise, you can disrupt the function of the roots.
Always add one-third of the mixture in which the plant previously grew to the fresh substrate. In this way, your Firecracker plant will adapt faster to new conditions.
– Choosing a Pot for Firecracker Plant
When choosing a pot, opt for one large enough for the roots to have room to grow. The container should be at least two inches wider than the diameter of the root bale.
Due to the tendency to weep, it is best to plant the Firecracker plant in a tall and wide pot so that the hanging flower shoots do not fall to the floor. Spacious hanging baskets or raised stands on which to place your Firecracker plant are also good choices.
Whether growing in a pot or a garden, the Firecracker plant needs pruning. It helps to maintain a shape and manageable size. Flowers are formed on this year’s shoots. Therefore after blooming, the stems with faded flowers should be removed. It encourages the plant to grow new stalks and new flowers.
At the end of the season or in the winter, you need to prune the plant more strongly and cut it back to a height of six or twelve inches. It may sound radical, but the measure is necessary for the plant to regenerate and grow more intensely and densely in the spring, giving more blooms.
You can also apply light crown pruning throughout the year if the plant grows scattered or does not give many flowers.
Firecracker plant is extremely decorative only if you maintain it properly. Otherwise, it becomes an inconspicuous, messy mass of rare shoots with few or no flowers.
How To Propagate Firecracker Plant
Firecracker plants are easiest to propagate vegetatively by rooting cuttings. The procedure looks like this:
- Choose a healthy stem with a few leaves on top. Cut it to a length of six inches below the node.
- Remove the lower leaves to leave a bare stem. Optionally lower what you can dip into the rooting hormone to speed up the rooting process.
- Stick the cuttings in a container with a moist substrate. Half of the cuttings should be in the substrate and half above it.
- Place the container with the cutter in a warm place with a lot of indirect sunlight. If the position is too bright, the substrate will dry out too quickly, and the cutting will not develop a root.
- Keep the substrate moderately moist. You can cover the cutting with a plastic, transparent bag to prevent it from drying out.
The cuttings will develop roots in the next two or three weeks. When you notice new growth, you can remove the plastic cover and, if necessary, transfer the plant to a larger pot.
– Plant Division
In addition to the cuttings, you can propagate the plant by dividing an existing adult plant. It is best to do this in the spring when transplanting your FC.
- Water the plant abundantly to make it easier to separate it from the pot. Remove the plant and rinse the root.
- Use a sharp, sterile knife to cut the root ball so that each part has at least a few stems.
- Plant the parts in individual pots, in a fresh substrate, and water abundantly.
- Continue to nurture the plant as usual.
– Seed Propagation
Of course, like all other flowering plants, the Firecracker plant can be propagated from seed. However, this method takes a long time because the seeds germinate very slowly. Moreover, once the seedlings germinate and appear, it may take several years before the plant first blooms.
Therefore, this method is only for the patient.
Firecracker Plant Problems
The Firecracker plant is a resistant plant that is not prone to diseases. If you nurture it properly, you will generally not face diseases that can endanger the plant. However, inadequate treatment can cause some changes that indicate that the plant is suffering and getting sick. Here are the most common problems that may occur:
– Loss of Shape and Poor Growth
To grow intensely and densely, the Firecracker plant needs pruning. If you leave the plant to itself, it will thin out and become bloomless. Also, the plant will lose its fountain-like shape. So, take the scissors and shorten without fear.
– Lack of Bloom
If poor flowering is not the result of irregular pruning, the other possible reason for the lack of blooming could be insufficient lightening. This problem is especially pronounced with indoor Firecracker plants. Indeed, it can be tricky to provide it with a sufficiently sunny position. The solution is to spend the summer outdoors or to place it on the south window.
– Yellowing of Leaves
This deformation suggests significant metabolic disorders. It is caused by excessive watering or insufficiently drained soil. Plants in the garden usually do not have this problem. But a plant in a pot that does not have a drainage hole will sooner or later end up in a soaked substrate that it will not be able to cope with. To note once again: provide the plant with well-drained soil, a pot with drainage holes, and moderate watering.
Although it is not particularly prone to pests, especially if it grows in optimal conditions, it can occasionally be attacked by mealybugs, spider mites, or thrips.
Mealybugs are serious pests since they suck the plant sap making the plant weak. They are soft-bodied, wingless, and coated with a white wax resembling a meal. Mealybugs are usually located on the back of the leaves, multiply quickly, and easily spread to other plants.
These tiny intruders, which are difficult to spot with the naked eye, resemble spiders, usually appear on plants that grow in an environment with dry air. They are red or brown and weave a fine reddish net on which you can detect their presence. The consequences of their invasion can also be twisting of the leaves and discoloration.
Thrips are miniature flying insects, usually black, that can cause significant problems if they occur in large numbers. They suck the sap of the plant, leaving areas with discolorations, often in the form of bright or yellow spots.
No matter which of the mentioned pests has settled on your plant, take adequate protection measures. If you are not a fan of chemicals, then apply a natural insecticide such as neem oil. Mix it with water and spray the plant with the solution.
You could repeat the procedure several times to ensure that any pest hidden in the leaf mass remains. Neem oil is an effective remedy harmless to the plant no matter how many times you apply it. You can also use it as prevention to avoid the appearance of parasites.
In addition to the unusual beauty, this plant will attract many butterflies and other flying insects. It is not particularly demanding and can grow over the years if you provide it with acceptable conditions. Here is the recap of its needs:
- Place your Firecracker plant in bright light to full sun since It needs light. During the summer, move it outdoors and set it in the sunniest spot you can provide.
- Water young plants thoroughly once a week. Allow the top layer of the soil to dry before watering the Firecracker plant again. Mature plants can tolerate drought.
- Do not worry about humidity since it tolerates average room moisture of 30 to 40 percent.
- Provide common room temperatures 65-75 F. It’s hardy in USDA Zones 9b-11 and cannot tolerate freezing temperatures.
- Plant the Firecracker plant in an all-purpose potting mix with one-third perlite or sand for better drainage.
- Feed every fifteen days from spring through fall with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer diluted by half.
The blossomed Firecracker plant with numerous coral flowers that flow in waterfalls over your terrace fence will cause passers-by and guests’ admiration and curiosity. Why wouldn’t you try to grow it? It is really worth the effort!
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