Cigar plants are profuse bloomers that produce bright orange-red flowers throughout the summer. Here are some useful tips to grow these plants.
If you love visitors like hummingbirds and butterflies in your garden, grow some cigar plants!
The Mexican cigar plant has nothing to do with cigars. The plant is named after its flowers that look like lit cigars. Otherwise known as firecracker plant, the cigar plant is a shrub that is native to Mexico. The scientific name of the plant is Cuphea ignea. The term ‘ignea’ means fire in Latin. The plant belongs to the genus Cuphea in the family Lythraceae.
The Mexican cigar plant grows to a height of around 2 to 3 meters. This plant has glossy-green, lance-shaped, leaves and slender stems. The most attractive feature of the plant is its flower. The tubular, orangish-red flower has purple and white colors on its rim. It resembles a lit cigar with ashen tips, and hence the name. These plants grow fast and bloom profusely.
Mexican cigar plants are grown as annuals in cooler northern regions. In warmer regions, they are often grown as perennials. The blooming time may not be uniform for all species, but most of them produce flowers during late spring to fall. Though the plant is easy to grow, proper care is required if you want them to bloom throughout the season.
How to Propagate Cigar Plants
Stem Cuttings: Cigar plants can be grown easily from stem cuttings or seeds. Stem cuttings must be at least three to four inches long, and have to be collected during summer. Moist perlite or a good quality potting soil can be used to grow these cuttings. Once you plant the cuttings, keep them in full shade for a week, after which they can be shifted to partial shade. You can transplant them in separate pots, when they develop roots and start growing as individual plants. They can be shifted to full sun within a week of transplanting.
Seeds: Cigar plant seeds can be sown outdoors when the weather warms up after the last frost. However, it is better to start the seeds indoors, at least 2 to 3 months before the last frost. As the seeds need light to germinate, avoid covering them with soil or the medium. All you need to do is to press them gently into the soil. The temperature of the medium must be maintained at 70°F, till the seeds germinate. It takes around 10 to 15 days for the seeds to germinate. Once they attain a height of a few inches, you can transplant them to separate pots that can be shifted outdoors after the frost. If you want to grow them on the ground, wait till the soil gets warm. While planting them, ensure that you leave some space (around 40 to 50 inches) between the seedlings.
Location: Cigar plants have to be grown in a location with full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. However, they tolerate partial shade too. Plants growing in full shade may become leggy, and may not bloom well. The ideal pH level ranges between 6.1 and 7.8. Established plants may tolerate dry spells to some extent, but they need some moisture for a healthy growth.
Watering: Cigar plants need regular watering during the growing season. Though overwatering is not good for them, completely dry soil is also not preferred. So, water them as and when the soil becomes slightly dry. Ensure that you reduce the frequency of watering during winter. Overhead watering has to be avoided as wet foliage may attract pests or develop fungal diseases.
Winter Care: Though the plant can tolerate high heat, it may not withstand freezing temperatures. So, potted plants can be shifted indoors during winters. Otherwise, stem cuttings can be taken from the plants before winter. These cuttings have to be grown indoors till spring. In warmer regions, the plants can overwinter outdoors. In that case, you have to cut them back during late fall. A thick layer of organic mulch may prove beneficial for protecting the roots during winter. In some areas, these plants overwinter successfully. You have to cut them back, as the weather warms up in spring. They will produce new growths and start once over again.
Feeding and Pruning: Once-a-month light feeding is enough for cigar plants. You may use an all-purpose fertilizer for this purpose. Otherwise, a balanced slow-release fertilizer can be used once a year, during spring, when new growths emerge. Pruning is not necessary for Mexican cigar plants, but removing the stem tips at regular intervals is good for maintaining compact and bushy plants. You may pinch off the tips as soon as the seedlings grow to a height of five inches. Such plants will produce new branches and denser foliage. Cigar plants can be pruned to maintain their shape and to remove diseased, damaged, and stray branches.
Container-grown plants have to be repotted once in every three to four years. This can be done during spring. Once the plants produce seeds, collect and dry them before storage. The seeds can be used for growing new plants.
Cigar plants are found to be resistant to pests and diseases if they are grown properly. Sometimes, they may be attacked by aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies. Fungal diseases like leaf spots may also develop. In that case, contact the local nursery for appropriate pesticides or insecticides. Cigar plants can be grown as perennials in USDA zones 8 to 11. If you are interested in growing plants with interesting features, go for the Mexican cigar plant.