From vibrant poinsettias to the obvious Christmas cacti, giving pot plants as a festive gift shows no signs of losing popularity. Yet for some they can be a present wrapped up in worry. Get the care of these colourful exotics wrong and you could be left with little more than limp leaves and bare stems by January.
The answer is to follow a few basic rules about temperature and watering, says Cheltenham florist Richard Brazington. He works at Bumblebeez where pot plants are a firm favourite with customers.
“Pot plants last a bit longer than cut flowers,” he explains. “Also with something like plant arrangements you get the choice of planting things out in the garden later.
Typical arrangements include ivy, a small evergreen and bulbs. They should be allowed to die back naturally and can then be planted out in the garden.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” adds Richard with a smile.
Poinsettias have long been top of the festive flower list and today they come in far more than just the traditional scarlet with a range of colours that includes burgundy, shocking pink and salmon.
Unsurprisingly, given that they come from central America, poinsettias need warmth to survive. Indeed, they are most at risk on the journey to your house when, unless they are well wrapped, they can catch a chill.
“It’s essential for them not to get cold,” says Richard. “It’s why I always think you should never buy them when they’ve been on show outside a shop.”
With this in mind, don’t leave your poinsettia out in the cold on a windowsill behind curtains at night as the drop in night-time temperature can be fatal.
Overwatering is the other peril: “They will rot and go mushy underneath.”
Water them sparingly, waiting until the compost feels dry and ensure they drain well.
If poinsettias like it hot, cyclamen are the cool customers among potted plants. They find centrally heated homes challenging and much prefer a position away from radiators or open fires.
Again, care needs to be taken with watering, which is best done from the bottom by standing the plant in a few inches of water for about 15 minutes and then allowing it to drain.
“The corms have a dimple on the top,” explains Richard. “If you water from the top and get water in that, they will rot.”
Orchids are among the most showy plants and, treated right, can be in flower for months. Phalaenopsis like plenty of light and warmth – but don’t overheat them next to a radiator. Water them freely when the compost is dry; use rainwater for the best results.
“You can throw as much water at them as you like, but let it drain well. If they sit in water, they will rot from the bottom up.”
Cymbidiums also like plenty of light but prefer a cooler position. Again, they should be watered when dry to the touch and allowed to drain.
If you’re buying them as a gift, Richard advises choosing a plant with plenty of open flowers as the shock of moving can cause them to drop buds.
Christmas cacti are also prone to losing flower buds when moved but, once into the house, are generally trouble-free. Steamy bathrooms out of direct sunlight suit them well and putting them on a saucer of moist gravel can help to increase the humidity.
To get the best results, they need regular feeding and watering from April to September and two ‘rest’ periods where the temperature is lowered – easily done by moving them to a cooler room – and watering is reduced. The first is when they finish flowering, usually late January to late March. The second is from mid-September until new flower buds have formed. Then move them back into the warm, resume regular watering and they should reward you with a fresh crop of flowers just in time for Christmas.