Get more out of season’s pot plants

Go for plenty of flowers at bud stage when buying azalea indica. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Go for plenty of flowers at bud stage when buying azalea indica. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Two key winter pot plants, poinsettia and azalea, are perennials, but maintaining the quality of display after the initial year is not straight forward.

The coloured bracts of poinsettia are generally red, but pink, cream and white forms exist.

Some gardeners leave them on the windowsill all year without pruning, and in a room of low light intensity that can stimulate coloured bract formation naturally.

However, to ensure a repeat performance the plant needs a rest period in March.

Ease off watering until the compost is almost dry and leaves fall, then reduce the main stems to 10cm. In late May pot into fresh compost and use some young shoots as stem cuttings.

Remember, this is a member of the euphorbia family and the white sap can cause irritation when in contact with your skin.

From late September, 14 hours of darkness each day for two months is required. Covering the plant with a black polythene bag or confining it to a cupboard each day are two possibilities.

Azalea indica is a gorgeous pot-grown plant, but choosing the best can be difficult.

My approach with this and other potted plants, after deciding colour, is to go for one with fresh foliage, a well-balanced shape and plenty flowers at the bud stage. One in full bloom might look impressive, but how much mileage is left?

Hippeastrum bulbs are always popular, and the flowers spectacular. There are also forced spring bulbs, which raise such hope.

If you missed the boat in planting them in autumn, keep an eye on garden centre displays for individual 9cm pots of hyacinth. Buy three, five or seven at the same stage of development and put them into a bowl with compost or fibre.

Also look for group plantings of narcissi in pots and bowls. Put them in a moderately warm room, near the light and offer bare twigs from the nearest deciduous shrub to support the blooms.

We always like to complete the presentation by masking the container compost with a carpet of natural green material. Fresh moss is best and, goodness knows, there’s always enough of that in the lawn at this time of year.