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How to prolong life of festive plants?
7:00am Saturday 22nd December 2012 in Homes & Gardens
Tips on how to make your Christmas indoor plants last into the new year with a little TLC - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
The poinsettia looked fantastic in the garden centre, its healthy red bracts providing some festive cheer.
But once you got it home, it only took a few days for the leaves to wilt and no amount of watering would bring them back.
I've heard this scenario so many times and it's not just poinsettias which can prove so disappointing during the Christmas period.
Forced hyacinths have been known to have stunted growth or just topple over, cyclamen fade and die before they've had a chance to flourish, while the flowers of orchids may be over before they've had a real chance to bloom, particularly if you over-water them.
Just be aware that many classic Christmas plants flourish outdoors and don't like warm rooms, draughts, radiators or lack of light.
As a rule, plants including cyclamen, pot chrysanthemums, Christmas cacti and indoor azaleas are happiest in a cool room such as a chilly hallway or even out on a porch where there is little or no heating.
They all like regular watering so their compost doesn't dry out, but they don't like being over-watered.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) you buy from the garden centre are likely to have been given artificial conditions to thrive at Christmas, such as special lighting and blackout blinds, as in the UK they would naturally flower at around Easter, when days and nights are of equal length.
They need comfortable, warm room temperatures of 18-24C (64-75F) and hate draughts so don't place them in the hall or near a door where the draught comes through.
Poinsettias like bright filtered light but not direct sunshine, which can damage them. Wait until the leaves just show signs of wilting, then give the compost a good soak, but don't let plants stand in water.
Christmas cacti seem to do best if you neglect them, watering them sparingly from the bottom maybe once a week, but don't let the roots sit in water.
These plants also don't like being moved so if they're on a windowsill, don't turn them around or move them to another room if they're in bud because those buds are likely to fall off if the plants are given a change of scenery.
The only plant which can take plenty of water is the indoor azalea, which can be watered every day so that the rootball remains moist. Sit the pot in a bowl of water for a few minutes, then tip the excess away.
It's ericaceous (lime-hating) so give it soft water, if you can. It likes bright light but not direct sunlight.
After flowering, and once all danger of frost has passed, azaleas can be repotted in ericaceous compost before placing outdoors in a shady spot for summer, but you will need to keep watering them regularly and give them a liquid feed formulated for lime-hating plants and they should survive. They'll need bringing back into the house before the first autumn frosts.
Other plants which will provide some festive cheer but do need cool conditions include cineraria and calceolaria, although you can place them in shady corners to brighten the scene temporarily, as these will be the plants that you'll throw away once they've finished flowering, unlike some of the longer-term houseplants.
Forced bulbs, including hyacinths and narcissi, are among my favourite plants at Christmas and beyond, providing delicious scent and striking colour to any room in the house.
If you've forced your own hyacinths, you should move them inside as soon as the buds are showing their true colour.
Things go wrong if you bring them in too soon, which will result in flowers on stunted stems which are dwarfed by the foliage.
Keep forced bulbs in a cool room with plenty of light, away from radiators or other direct heat, with minimal watering, and they should see you through the festive season but don't expect them to last too long.
If you've bought forced bulbs from a shop, once flowering is over you can throw them away as they won't transfer well to the garden.
BEST OF THE BUNCH - Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
This colourful winter gem produces a splash of yellow blooms from November to late February and will thrive against a north-facing wall, or with its lanky branches trailing over a bank or trained up a trellis, as the stems can reach 10ft or more.
It's easy to grow, thriving in virtually any garden soil, and the flowers arrive before the leaves. It can be easily propagated by layering shoots in the autumn or planting 3in cuttings in a cold frame in summer.
Old branches can be thinned out in spring, while side shoots which have flowered can be cut back.
Good enough to eat - Forcing chicory
Chicory has become increasingly popular as a winter salad leaf and adds a sharp taste to any green ensemble as it's slightly more bitter than lettuce. ]
It's normally harvested from summer to autumn but if you force chicory you can have fresh leaves in winter, too.
Lift the roots grown for forcing, taking three or four roots, trimming the leaves just above the crown and the roots at the bottom, so they will fit into a 20-25cm (8-10in) pot of garden soil with the crowns just visible.
Cover the roots with a pot of the same size but with holes blacked out. Keep the whole thing slightly moist in an airing cupboard. In three to four weeks, the heads of the blanched leaves should be ready to eat.
Three ways to... Protect patio plants
1. Lag outdoor pots of permanent plants with bubble wrap or hessian before persistent cold weather freezes the soil within the pots. If the compost freezes, the moisture turns to ice and the plants will die of lack of water.
2. Stand containers of spring-flowering bulbs in a sheltered spot close to the house on pot feet, so persistent rain doesn't rot the bulbs.
3. If you have emptied your pots, give them a good clean with disinfectant and put them in the shed, to stop any spores or bacteria over-wintering and affecting plants you pot up next year.
What to do this week
:: If any of your pansies have the fungal disease pansy sickness, in which the whole plant turns yellow and dies off, dispose of the plants and the soil, if they are in pots, as the disease is carried in the soil.
:: Prune birch and acers while they are dormant to stop the wounds bleeding sap and weakening the plant.
:: Shred the prunings from ornamental plants and fruit trees and bushes. Use the shreddings as a mulch on flower beds.
:: Bring bay trees grown in pots indoors or move them to a sheltered position if really cold weather is forecast.
:: Continue to harvest Brussels sprouts, parsnips and leeks.
:: Plan any landscaping jobs which you are going to undertake next year.
:: If soil is workable, continue winter digging.
:: Keep off the lawn when it's frosty
:: Fork over vacant ground to reduce the chance of pests.
:: Check on stored fruit and veg, discarding any showing signs of rotting
:: Prevent the pond from freezing over by floating a tennis ball on the surface or melting a hole by standing a hot saucepan on it for a few minutes, to allow an air hole for fish to breathe.
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