It’s that time of the year again when some of my favourite flowering pot plants come back on the scene. For me poinsettias, cyclamen and azaleas are rather nostalgic plants. I’ve been selling them every winter since my early teens. Then cyclamen and azaleas were the favourites; most houses were not warm enough for poinsettias. Sue Robinson is a house plant expert who I have worked with for many years. She and her husband John supplied garden centres and florists with house plants through countless seasons. There isn’t much she doesn’t know about caring for poinsettias, cyclamen and azaleas so I invited her to share her knowledge with us:
Sue Robinson on how to care for poinsettias:
As we approach Christmas and our houses fill up with twinkling lights and spangled decorations, red become the traditional colour. Our homes are transformed into sparkling crimson backgrounds for family celebrations.
We have a few traditional plants which we all associate with Christmas. The first one being the splendid Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), which remains one of the most popular seasonal plants.
I have watched over the years the early varieties of poinsettia change from weak, fragile, easily damaged plants, to strong vibrant long lasting subjects, expertly grown in the UK and Europe to fulfil the Christmas demand. There is now a vast range of colours from the familiar red to the palest of creams and lemons to various exciting new bi-colours. They are sold everywhere from the local corner store to large supermarkets and of course our local garden centres.
Still one of the most often asked questions it “How can I keep this going to next year?” Whilst this can be done it a complicated process and since the plants are not expensive it may be easier to just buy a new one each year and of course you can also change the colour.
Poinsettias, although much sturdier nowadays, are still susceptible to the cold weather so when choosing where to purchase your plant, go somewhere where they have been kept in a warm area, not in a porch or outside. Make sure your plant is sturdy, looking good with no broken bracts (the red leaves) with fat buds in the middle of the coloured rosettes. Always when leaving the shop ensure your plant is placed a plant sleeve, getting it home as soon as possible. A tip on removing the plant sleeve, always cut if off the prevent damage to your plant.
Once your Poinsettia is home, here are a few hints and tips to keep it in good condition to give you pleasure during the winter months:
Your plant will love being on a sunny windowsill; it comes from the tropics and will appreciate as much light as you can give it.
Keeping your plant in a warm room is essential; if you are comfortable and feel warm your plant will also. Cold temperatures will cause wilting, it will look sad and prematurely drop its leaves. Poinsettias hate chilly draughts and will not want to spend their nights on cold windowsills behind pulled curtains.
Water your plant when the soil feels dry, allow it to take the water up from the bottom of the pot and then tip away the excess so it roots are not sitting in water. If your plant is over watered it will cause the lower leave to turn yellow and drop.
Lack of humidity is always a problem for our houseplants, particularly in the winter months. If you can gently mist the foliage with water it will extend the flowering life of the plant.
For a spectacular table decoration, several plants placed together in a large bowl, the pots topped with moss will make a statement for any Christmas celebration.
Sue Robinson on how to care for cyclamen:
When its miserable outside a sure way to brighten up your home is to treat yourself to an indoor cyclamen. They are bright cheerful and a great way to add colour to our dark winter days.
Over the years growers have developed many new hybrids for us to enjoy. A beautiful range of colours, from the softest of pinks to strong rich reds and burgundies, into regal purples, and now new bicolours; some have ruffled petal and different shaped flowers; all have green or variegated heart shaped leaves. They will remain in flower for six to eight weeks with a little care.
When buying your plants, the foliage should have some resistance and feel crisp to touch; it should feeling a bit like a cabbage leaves. There should be a few flowers out with plenty of buds in view, and plenty more nestling amongst the leaves.
They are happy in room temperature on the cooler side, but they don’t like freezing temperatures, so on frosty nights remember not to leave them behind curtains, bring them into the room. However during daylight they will appreciate a light airy position.
Cyclamen like to be kept moist, water by allowing the plant to take water up through the pot, tipping the excess away when all the compost is moist. Watering from above can lead to rotting and yellowing of the leaves.
Dead head regularly by twisting the stem with a tug, the whole stem will come away easily from the base of the plant. Remove any dead or rotting foliage and flowers.
Cyclamen are perfect for creating plant decorations. Rather than leaving them in their plastic pots they can be planted into a basket in groups, topped with moss and fir cones, or just put into a brightly coloured ceramic pots, three in a row in the middle of a table or window ledge.
If your cyclamen dries out completely it will wilt and collapse. To revive it, give it a steam bath. Place an upturned bowl in the sink and sit the cyclamen on it after moistening the soil. Now pour a kettle of boiling water into the bowl and let the steam rise around the plant. You will be surprised just how quickly it revives.
Sue Robinson on how to care for azaleas:
My last choice is the indoor azalea a plant that has lost popularity in the UK over the years, but is still a wonderful plant of the season and one which gives you that feeling of a bit of the garden brought indoors. With the right care this plant will produce blooms regularly for many years.
The secret to watering your azalea is to keep the compost thoroughly moist at all times, but like all other indoor plants do not leave it standing in water. If it dries out the foliage will shrivel and the flowers wilt.
Like the cyclamen the azalea also likes a cool to average room temperature with good air movement, however it will not like drafts, and will also deteriorate in positions where it’s exposed to hot dry air. Misting regularly will promote a longer flowering period and help keep the air humid around the plant.
It’s a plant that can be put in the garden during the summer months and brought back in during the autumn ready to flower through the winter.