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Choosing and caring for Christmas house plants

Martyn Cox / 19 December 2014 ( 06 December 2016 )

Gardening expert Martyn Cox shares his tips for choosing and caring for festive pot plants like poinsettia.

Festive poinsettia with Christmas candles
Festive pot plant Euphorbia pulcherrima, or poinsettia

Many of us like to brighten up homes with seasonal pot plants like poinsettia over the festive period, but how many of these plants will welcome the arrival of the New Year in tip-top condition? Very few, I reckon.

Central heating, chilly draughts, low light levels and poor watering will cause some plants to flag immediately. Others will limp along for a bit longer, but will probably be consigned to the compost heap before you’ve warbled Auld Lang Syne.

But it doesn’t have to work out like that. Plants will thrive if you put them in the right place and adopt a careful watering regime. Some will continue to look good into spring or even longer, depending on what you grow.

Read our suggestions for winter containers

Buying Christmas pot plants

Poinsettias, cyclamen, orchids, cineraria and other pot plants are native to warmer parts of the world. Pick specimens displayed in a warm, sheltered environment. Don’t be tempted by those sat in the foyer of DIY stores. Being subjected to cold air is likely to cause plants to go downhill quickly once you get them home.

Get your plants home as quickly as possible - don't be tempted to leave them in a cold car while you carry on with your Christmas shopping as moving plants quickly between hot and cold temperatures can damage them.

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Where to position Christmas pot plants

Don’t put pot plants close to fires, or on windowsills above radiators. The warmth will dry out compost, resulting in flowers fading, leaves dropping or shrivelling up.

Most need light and will soon start to sulk if they are placed in a dark hallway or another place where they are unlikely to get any sunlight.  Ideally, put on or near a double glazed windowsill – cool air from gaps in single glazed windows can damage foliage.

An exception to the rule are poinsettias - they don’t need a massive amount of light and will do well on a table in the centre of a room where they are free from draughts. 

Find out how house plants can transform your home

Watering Christmas pot plants

Give plants a good soaking, then withhold water until the compost is dry. Roots can quickly rot if they are sitting in a puddle of water, so place pots on saucers or drip trays and remove any excess liquid.

If possible water in the morning so any moisture that splashes onto plants has a chance to dry during the day – water left on stems or leaves can lead to fungal diseases, which will prosper in cooler conditions overnight.

Fertilise once a week with houseplant fertiliser.

Keeping Christmas pot plants going

Annual pot plants should earn their keep until spring. Orchids, chrysanthemums and azaleas will last for many years if you give them plenty of TLC. 

Find out how to grow orchids

Keeping poinsettias for next year

Poinsettias are usually evicted when their coloured leaves (technically bracts) fade. However, it’s possible to keep plants going so you end up with a bigger, better specimen the following winter.

Poinsettias are perennial shrubs in their native Mexico and can grow to 15 feet tall, and with care they can live in a container for many years.

Prune your poinsettia to about 10cm (4in) in April.

In summer, repot your plant using mutlipurpose compost and place the poinsettia in a cool, shady spot outdoors over summer, and bring back indoors in early September – put in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.

How to encourage your poinsettia to turn red

The poinsettia 'flower' is actually made up of modified leaves, known as bracts, that can change colour through a process called photoperiodism, which is initiated by short days and long nights. They are most commonly seen in red but can also be pink or white. 

For photoperiodism to work poinsettias need about 14 hours of darkness a night to produce red bracts, so place a box over the plant in the evening and remove in the morning. Do this for eight weeks from early November then treat as normal.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.