Prolong the life of festive plants

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Tips on how to make your Christmas indoor plants last in the new year with a little TLC - plus find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.

The poinsettia looked fantastic in the garden centre, its healthy red bracts providing some festive cheer.

But once you got it home, it only took a few days for the leaves to wilt and no amount of watering would bring them back.

I’ve heard this scenario so many times and it’s not just poinsettias which can prove so disappointing during the Christmas period.

Forced hyacinths have been known to have stunted growth or just topple over, cyclamen fade and die before they’ve had a chance to flourish, while the flowers of orchids may be over before they’ve had a real chance to bloom, particularly if you over-water them.

Just be aware that many classic Christmas plants flourish outdoors and don’t like warm rooms, draughts, radiators or lack of light.

As a rule, plants including cyclamen, pot chrysanthemums, Christmas cacti and indoor azaleas are happiest in a cool room such as a chilly hallway or even out on a porch where there is little or no heating.

They all like regular watering so their compost doesn’t dry out, but they don’t like being over-watered.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) you buy from the garden centre are likely to have been given artificial conditions to thrive at Christmas, such as special lighting and blackout blinds, as in the UK they would naturally flower at around Easter, when days and nights are of equal length.

They need comfortable, warm room temperatures of 18-24C (64-75F) and hate draughts so don’t place them in the hall or near a door where the draught comes through.

Poinsettias like bright filtered light but not direct sunshine, which can damage them. Wait until the leaves just show signs of wilting, then give the compost a good soak, but don’t let plants stand in water.

Christmas cacti seem to do best if you neglect them, watering them sparingly from the bottom maybe once a week, but don’t let the roots sit in water.

These plants also don’t like being moved so if they’re on a windowsill, don’t turn them around or move them to another room if they’re in bud because those buds are likely to fall off if the plants are given a change of scenery.

The only plant which can take plenty of water is the indoor azalea, which can be watered every day so that the rootball remains moist. Sit the pot in a bowl of water for a few minutes, then tip the excess away.

It’s ericaceous (lime-hating) so give it soft water, if you can. It likes bright light but not direct sunlight.

After flowering, and once all danger of frost has passed, azaleas can be repotted in ericaceous compost before placing outdoors in a shady spot for summer, but you will need to keep watering them regularly and give them a liquid feed formulated for lime-hating plants and they should survive. They’ll need bringing back into the house before the first autumn frosts.

Other plants which will provide some festive cheer but do need cool conditions include cineraria and calceolaria, although you can place them in shady corners to brighten the scene temporarily, as these will be the plants that you’ll throw away once they’ve finished flowering, unlike some of the longer-term houseplants.

Forced bulbs, including hyacinths and narcissi, are among my favourite plants at Christmas and beyond, providing delicious scent and striking colour to any room in the house.

If you’ve forced your own 
hyacinths, you should move them inside as soon as the 
buds are showing their true colour.

Things go wrong if you bring them in too soon, which will result in flowers on stunted stems which are dwarfed by the foliage.

Keep forced bulbs in a cool room with plenty of light, away from radiators or other direct heat, with minimal watering, and they should see you through the festive season but don’t expect them to last too long.

If you’ve bought forced bulbs from a shop, once flowering is over you can throw them away as they won’t transfer well to the garden.