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Caring for Christmas House Plants

Published by Jan Zecca

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Houseplants received as Christmas gifts may benefit from some care and maintenance by the time the festivities are over. During the winter, watering of house plants should be at a much reduced level. However, relocating plants to make best use of the reduced winter light, the increased likelihood of draughts and the drying effect of increased heating in the house all add to the variables that will affect a plant at this time of year.

Different house plants among the more popular types are best maintained by being aware of some simple yet specific requirements. While other popular Christmas house plants include poinsettia and the Christmas cactus, four types that demonstrate varying needs and the value of knowing what they require are cyclamen, azalea, hippeastrum and chrysanthemum.

Cyclamen

A cyclamen grows best when kept cool but not cold, and placed in a bright spot but out of any direct sunlight. Grown as a houseplant it should be kept above 45F, while 50F to 59F is the recommended temperature when the plant is in flower.

The compost of the cyclamen should be kept moist. When active, the plant should be fed with a suitable liquid plant feed. A display idea that works well for cyclamen persicum is to place several plants in a flat dish with pebbles between that are kept moist, in a cool room. This also allows for watering from underneath, which is useful with cyclamen, to avoid leaving water on its leaves.

The cyclamen flowers in autumn and/or winter depending on its cultivation, but the plant will last many years if rested during the late spring and early summer. When the pot containing the dormant corm can be kept outside, it is best kept undercover in a greenhouse, conservatory or outbuilding so that it stays dry and can be watered occasionally.

Azalea

The Indian azalea or azalea indica, though botanically the rhododendron simsii, is the common form of indoor azalea. There are many varieties. Another indoor azalea is rhododendron obtusum, sometimes known as the Japanese azalea, which has slightly smaller blooms. Many azalea varieties produce masses of flowers. Azaleas and chrysanthemums are popular choices used to provide the bright colors in combined plant displays.

The azalea should be kept in a cool but not too cold environment. As with cyclamen, azaleas grow best in brightly-lit places but not in direct sunlight. Azaleas like acidic soil and are lime-hating so hard water is to be avoided. Rainwater is the preferred water for azaleas, and it is advisable to use ericaceous, i.e. lime-free, compost, which has an acidic and therefore low pH value. The compost should be kept moist. During their growth period, azaleas should be fed and dead-headed. It is advisable to twist rather than cut decaying flowers off.

Hippeastrum

This plant is noted for its large, attractive flowers and relatively easy maintenance. If several plants can be grown and each placed in a separate pot, but the pots placed close together, they create a striking display when in flower though their large leaves and long stems require space and height. This houseplant benefits from bright light. It is also recommended to keep turning the plant every few days to keep the stem growing straight. As it grows it will need support, especially as the large flowers develop.

Chrysanthemum

The chrysanthemum’s botanical name is dendranthema but as the plant has been a favorite for so long this term is rarely used by gardeners, while the common term for indoor chrysanthemums is pot ‘mums. Not overly fussy as a house plant, chrysanthemums like to be kept cool and their compost kept moist.

Susceptible to grey mould if kept in too humid conditions, the chrysanthemum is more tolerant of over-watering than many house plants. While some gardeners take the view that chrysanthemums can be easily and inexpensively replaced, for others it is more satisfying to transplant them outdoors and watch them grow larger after the winter season. Other gardeners prefer chrysanthemums that are cultivated for outdoors.

General Points about Christmas House Plants

Aside from the specifics, some general points apply to most houseplants displayed during winter:

  • It is good practice in all but highly exceptional cases to remove dead or damaged foliage to prevent any build-up of disease.
  • Given not too much variation in daytime and night-time temperature and no more than 10F if possible, common houseplants will successfully adapt to the environment.
  • The ideal is to be able to periodically water well by letting the compost start to dry out between watering and keep heating turned down. It is the exceptions to this that often lead to problems with house plants during winter.

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