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Spare a thought for your houseplants this Christmas

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 December 2017

Mini Cyclamen, comfortable in a cool room

Mini Cyclamen, comfortable in a cool room

© RHS

Nigel Eaton, head of RHS Garden Harlow Carr Shop & Plant Centre shares his top tips for your houseplants this winter

Award-winning garden designer Matthew Wilson launches in garden school in the spring  Photo Richie Hopson Award-winning garden designer Matthew Wilson launches in garden school in the spring Photo Richie Hopson

Every year from late November through to Christmas Eve, millions of houseplants are given as gifts in the UK. As a horticultural retailer I am really pleased to see this trend, however, my biggest bugbear is how many people actually think about the recipient and the conditions they are going to put these plants in.

So many times in the past I have walked into homes where on the sideboard sits a bowl of elongated hyacinths strung up with a couple of knitting needles to stop them falling over, with the gas fire blazing away. Or even worse, a lovely cyclamen wilting over the side of its pot, gradually desiccating on a shelf over a radiator turned up full blast!

So here is my plea on behalf of Christmas houseplants everywhere: if you are giving an indoor plant as a gift this year, please, please take some time to research the best options and make sure they will thrive in the conditions they are given into.

Traditional Christmas plants that were popular in Victorian and Edwardian times – mainly cyclamen, azaleas and potted bulbs - were ideal as they would thrive in the cold and draughty conditions of a typical period home. Nowadays, many of us live in hermetically-sealed, heat-efficient houses that keep us warm all the time, but those cool growing plants just can’t cope with those conditions.

Houseplants on a windowsill: Phalaenopsis and Streptocarpus Houseplants on a windowsill: Phalaenopsis and Streptocarpus

There are a couple of fall back plants that have become popular lately such as poinsettia and amaryllis which are much more suited to the warm, dry atmosphere they find themselves in. Luckily, there is a wealth of information available online for you to look at before making a decision to buy. The Royal Horticultural Society website has dedicated pages on plants for specific room conditions; it’s a great resource to help you find the right plant for the right place.

Here are my own suggestions for the perfect plants for three different room settings:

Euphorbia pulcherrima or poinsettia is happy in a hot room Euphorbia pulcherrima or poinsettia is happy in a hot room

For hot rooms

20-25oC / 68-77oF

This room would usually be lived in by someone who keeps the heating turned up. Ideal plants for these conditions would be poinsettia, cacti and succulents including Christmas cacti, phalaenopsis (moth) orchids and planted terrariums.

For warm rooms

15-20oC / 59-67oF

Generally a sitting room or lounge area, suitable plants that would last would be gardenias, amaryllis, orchids and many of the planted arrangements that are available at this time of year.

For cool rooms

10-15oC / 50-58oF

Typically a dining room, hallway or porch, good choices include more traditional plants such as cyclamen, azaleas and planted bulb containers which grow slowly and flower over a long period of time.

Another trick to get your cool growing plants to last longer in a warmer room is to put them on the window sill at night and draw the curtains, making a cooler spot for them to sit in overnight and recover from the warmth.

If conditions are right, your choice of Christmas houseplant could be the gift that keeps on giving well into the New Year.

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