Daylight and warmth key to long plant life

Poinsettia will thrive in the right conditions.
Poinsettia will thrive in the right conditions.
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Indoor entertainment, such as that forced on gardeners by seasonal celebrations and inclement weather, has been a welcome break from the cold feet and fingers that winter work outdoors brings.

We’ve had time to pamper the house plants, peruse seed catalogues and plan gardening operations for the year ahead.

Try to avoid offering a small amount of water every day. Far better wait until signs indicate the plant needs moisture and water thoroughly, allowing it to drain off.

The main topic of conversation at present is how to prolong the flowering and life of potted plants received as Christmas gifts.

Each have individual demands, but daylight and modest warmth, coupled with moderate watering, will keep them blooming and alive over winter. Ten to 15C is the range to aim for. Anything below that will have an adverse effect, more so if the growing medium has become excessively moist. Temperatures above 15C dry out compost and shorten the flowering period.

It follows that the full light of a windowsill is preferable to the dark corner of an overheated living room.

And try to avoid offering a small amount of water every day. Far better wait until signs indicate the plant needs moisture and water thoroughly, allowing it to drain off. A drooping of leaves, dry compost, or a plant that feels much lighter when you pick it up, these are signs that water is required.

Standing pots in drip trays avoids spillage, and if you add small pebbles it creates a water table effect. Roots foraging through drainage holes in the pot absorb moisture naturally and the plant benefits from capillarity. In bypassing watering your compost from the top there is less chance of damaging plant tissue. Cyclamen, whose corms rest on the surface, especially benefit from this method.

We have a series of cache pots in various sizes, and adding pebbles to them serves the dual purpose of watering via capillary attraction and enhancing the overall appearance.

Traditional winter favourites – cyclamen, poinsettia, azalea, solanum and jasmine – will thrive under such treatment, but do keep an eye open for greenfly.

Daily health inspection is essential because our conservatory becomes a plant preservation area akin to Noah’s Ark over winter, where coffee, tea, citrus, ginger and diverse ornamentals are afforded refuge.

Some are taking a well-earned rest after a long season of flower production, for example zonal pelargoniums and streptocarpus. Likewise, foliage ornamentals, such as Begonia rex.

During this semi-dormant period, they need very little water. But this is not the case for the cyclamen, jasmine, azalea, poinsettia, et al. Check their water requirements daily.