Often given as gifts to help dispel winter dullness, Christmas-flowering houseplants offer their best displays when kept in the right conditions. Whether you are the owner of a poinsettia, cyclamen, azalea, jasmine or gardenia, providing suitable temperatures, humidity levels and care means you can impress your friends into the New Year with the health of the plant they gave you.
Suprisingly, houses can be challenging places for houseplants. Central heating is very drying to plants that, more often than not, come from humid, tropical parts of the world. There are several ways in which you can make your home a haven for houseplants.
Good houseplant care is needed to get the most from your Christmas-flowering plants, but in particular;
- If possible, choose plants that like the conditions that you have available in your house
- Avoid placing plants: in a draught; where there are large fluctuations in temperature (most common if plants are displayed on windowsills); and in a hot spot caused by the central heating (such as above a radiator)
- Water plants by standing them in a bowl containing a few centimetres (half an inch) of water for five minutes. Remove and allow to drain before putting the pot back in position
- Alternatively, water plants by plunging the pot into a deep container of tepid water (preferably rainwater) until bubbles cease to appear, then drain and replace
- For those plants that need it (e.g. azalea), improve humidity levels by placing them on a pebble tray. To make one, fill a tray with expanded clay granules (Hydoleca) or recycled lightweight aggregate (Hortag) and top up with water (but make sure the bottom of the plant's container is not submerged - tip out some water if necessary)
- To help raise humidity levels further, group houseplants together
Plants for bright, cool conditions of around 10-15°C (50-59°F)
Azalea (Rhododendron simsii cultivars)
- A half-hardy plant, 20-45cm (8-18in) high
- Azaleas naturally bloom in spring, but they are forced into flower early for the Christmas trade
- Grow in a cool location, away from scorching sunshine, and keep moist. If the compost dries out, the plant will often die
- Place the container on a pebble tray to maintain humidity
- A sunny windowsill is an ideal position for azaleas during winter
- In mid-April, repot using an ericaceous compost and feed with a high-potassium, liquid feed at weekly intervals. Plants can be stood outdoors in a cool, shady site for the summer if kept constantly moist, but must be brought indoors before the first frost of autumn
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum hybrids)
- Indoor cyclamen originate from a wild species native to the Middle East. Modern hybrids include those with silver marbled leaves, frilled petals, fragrant blooms and miniatures, and a range of flower colours. They vary in height from 15cm (6in) to 30cm (1ft)
- Cyclamen will bloom for several months and can flower again in future years
- Buy a plant with plenty of buds showing underneath the foliage. Avoid any plants with drooping or yellow leaves, as they have often been overwatered
- Choose a brightly-lit situation, away from direct sunlight and heat sources
- Occasional drying out of the compost is less harmful than overwatering
- Remove spent flowers by twisting the stems and giving them a sharp pull. This avoids leaving parts of the stems behind, which often rot
- After flowering, continue careful watering and feeding until leaves yellow, then reduce watering as the plant becomes dormant for the summer
- As new growth appears, replace the top few centimetres (half an inch) of compost in the container with fresh compost and resume regular watering
- Indoor cyclamen are usually larger and more showy than their outdoor cousins, the hardy cyclamen
Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)
- Jasmine is a long-flowering, scented climber, suitable for a cool conservatory or porch. In very sheltered areas of the country, it can survive outside. For more information, see the advice on growing in containers explained in our jasmine profile
Flowering houseplants for warm-room temperatures of around 20°C (68°F)
Poinsettia, gardenia and orchids, such as Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis are all ideal for warm rooms. Orchids such as Cymbidium will also tolerate cooler positions out of full sun in a north- or east-facing room.
Bulbs for indoors
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