Caring for Festive house plants
Some festive houseplants are easy to look after and just keep going, Other Christmas flowering plants take a bit more looking after. Poinsettias are well known to be among the trickiest of plants to keep because they are day length sensitive plants that need darkness and warmth all in strictly controlled amounts - I admit my advice is to simply enjoy them over the holiday and resign yourself to their eventual demise!
But cyclamen, orchids, azaleas and many others will last a lot longer than just a few weeks. Here's how to keep them going well into the New Year.
Cyclamen The showy cyclamen we get given as house plants are Cyclamen persica hybrids often called Florists' cyclamen. They are related to our little native cyclamen but unlike our hardy native plants they come from warmer climates - Warm rooms and overwatering are the main causes of death for cyclamen persica plants; they need cool rooms, careful watering and good drainage to thrive.
The main cause of death for an indoor cyclamen is botrytis infection - a fuzzy grey mould that causes stems to collapse and kills the plant. To avoid it stand the pots on a saucer of gravel and water the saucer not the pot; that way the crown of the plants stay dry and the risk of mould and disease is reduced.
Moth orchids - phalaenopsis. Phalaenopsis orchids often seem to thrive on neglect- they will sit happily on a warm and moderately bright windowsill, east or north facing aspects are idea. If the room is draught-free and occasionally steamy so much the better! Water orchids about once every 10 days and let them dry out in between watering. Don't let them sit in water.
These plants grow naturally in warm, humid conditions, in their native habitats they get the moisture they need from sudden downpours followed by periods of drought. Those thick aerial roots are experts at finding moisture from the environment so let them escape from the pot- that's what they're designed to do!
Mushy roots and yellowing, wrinkled leaves are a sure sign of an orchid that's been overwatered-a fortnightly water and occasional feed is perfect.
Cut spent flower stems off, low down on the stem and new ones will eventually form to keep the plants going for a long time.
Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) These wonderful flowering bulbs really make a statement when grown at Christmas. The gold and silver-painted bulbs need no special care to thrive but if you've got dry, unpainted bulbs they'll need potting up into multi purpose compost with a third of the bulb above the soil.
Give them an initial watering but after that first drenching wait until you see tip of the flower bud appearing before you water them again. Too much water early on can lead to lots of leaves and fewer flowers.
Keep them in a moderately warm, well lit room and turn the bulb regularly to avoid the flower stems leaning into the light. Staking with canes and string will stop the stems from toppling.
Once flowers appear they'll last for weeks just needing to be deadheaded to keep them looking good.
You can discard the bulbs after Christmas but it's fun to try and keep them for next year. If you want to try, keep them growing until September feeding and watering regularly. Stop watering from September and let the foliage die back. Place in a cool frost-free place for 1 or 2 months and then start them back into warmth in a warm, well lit room
In their first year Hippeastrum are reliable Christmas flowers but they'll often flower at a different time in subsequent years- Easter flowering in year two is not unusual!
Azaleas - These frilly colourful flowers are always popular but they will need acidic soil and careful watering if you want to keep them in flower into the New Year. Keep azaleas on a bright windowsill and stand the pots on a saucer of gravel. This helps to keep humidity at the right level. Like many houseplants Azaleas need to be watered carefully, keep the compost moist but not wet to avoid mould and fungal infections. The plants are half hardy so they won't withstand a hard frost but equally they dislike over warm rooms a cool, well lit room is perfect well away from radiators and fires. .
When the plants are in flower feed once a week with a high potassium liquid feed. Tomato food is fine.