Sunday 24 September 2017

Poinsettia is worth unwrapping at Christmas - but keep away from cold fronts

Poinsettia
Poinsettia

Gerry Daly

A lot of people these days receive, or buy, at least one plant for Christmas. These plants need to be looked after properly to get good results, because they are not only ornaments or accessories. Poinsettia, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, winter cherry, azalea, hyacinth and chrysanthemum are the most popular Christmas plants.

Some others have become increasingly popular at Christmas, such as flamingo flower, ardisia, jasmine, kalanchoe, winter begonia and peace lily, although these are sold at other times of the year too. All of these kinds of plants are raised in greenhouses and need good conditions. The basic needs are water, light and warmth, and feeding is not generally needed at this time.

Poinsettia has become a symbol of Christmas almost as much as the holly and ivy. It is a not hardy plant, and must be grown in a heated room, the temperature not dropping much below 16° Celsius, day or night, and not behind curtains. Poinsettia often drops its leaves soon after it comes into the house because the plant got a chill between when it left the grower and before it was purchased. Never buy houseplants that have been left outside a shop in the cold.

The Christmas azalea, or indoor azalea, does not need as much warmth as poinsettia. It is very prone to wilting from becoming too dry and root death occurs from continuous standing in water.

Keep it in a relatively cool room and it will flower for several weeks, and can be kept for years.

Cyclamen does not like too much warmth or dry air. The large-flowered cyclamen can be kept for many years, but it reacts badly to drying out, instantly drooping its leaves. When watered it recovers but not all the leaves stand up again. It lasts in flower best in a relatively cool room.

Winter cherry likes a cool room too, and can be grown year-round in a conservatory or an unheated greenhouse. The seasonal attraction is the round, bright red cherry-like fruits. It is a small woody bush and can be grown to a large size over many years. It is easy to look after, given good light.

Hyacinth flowers in March or April but has been traditionally forced for Christmas using bulbs that have been specially heat-treated to bring forward flower production. These can be bought as bulbs, forced in a bowl for the festive season, and can be planted in the garden to flower again.

Christmas cactus is a tough little plant, well adapted for periods of drought, but does best with even watering. If the sunlight is too bright, its green colour fades. It flowers more reliably for Christmas if the room is warm. Flowering is triggered by short days in early autumn and artificial light can prevent flowering.

Chrysanthemums flower naturally late in the year and the typical pot-mum sold at this time is a very easy plant to care for in the home. It is the most disposable of Christmas plants, but it can be planted outdoors and sometimes recovers.

If any of the plants mentioned is doing badly, try it in another spot and do the opposite in terms of watering. It might work!

Sunday Independent

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