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Looking after your Christmas plants

At this time of year, it's always nice to give or receive a plant as a gift to brighten your home.

If you are choosing one for yourself, it helps to know a little about their preferences, because putting the right plant in the right place means it should last much longer. Thereís a plant for almost every spot around your home, apart from very dark or draughty places where most plants will struggle. If you want to keep your plant looking good for as long as possible, add indoor plant food when you water them.

Poinsettia

This Mexican plant is one we have come to associate with the Christmas season and its cheery red bracts are always welcome. Not that it only comes in red: white, cream, pink and speckled forms are also available. Stand it in a well-lit area in a warm room, away from direct heat (like a radiator) and a draughty doorway. Water regularly to keep the compost in the pot moist but not wet. If the plant begins to shed its leaves, make sure it isnít too wet or dry, or too cold. TIP: never buy a poinsettia that has been standing outside or near a doorway, because it will have been chilled and, once that happens, itís on a countdown and thereís nothing you can do to stop it dying.

Cyclamen

If you are buying a cyclamen, look for one with lots of closed buds and only one or two open flowers so you can see the colour. That way, you will have flowers for the longest time. Keep your plant in a well-lit, cool spot away from heat and direct sunshine. This is an ideal choice for a cool hall or porch. Water regularly to moisten the compost, but you can allow it to get almost dry before watering again. TIP: Remove the flowers as they die (and any leaves that go yellow) by twisting them off right down at the base and pulling. The main reason cyclamen plants die early is grey mould, something you can avoid with good hygiene because this mould lives on decaying material.

Solanum

Known as the Christmas cherry for its bright, round, berry-like fruits, this is a good plant for a warm and well-lit location. Water it regularly to keep the compost moist, but never wet and remove any leaves that turn yellow. TIP: This is actually a member of the pepper family, but the fruits are not edible and getting juice from them on your skin or anywhere near your eyes can cause irritation

Rose

Miniature roses for indoors used to have tiny little flowers, but recent breeding means they now have flowers almost as large as their outdoor cousins and will make a lovely display. The newest introductions also have good fragrance. Keep your rose in a warm, well-lit spot and keep the compost in the pot moist. TIP: You can stand your rose outside in summer and, if you need to, move it into a slightly bigger pot before moving it inside again before the frosts. Many will relocate into a border if you donít want to have it inside again.

Azalea

This form of evergreen azalea prefers a cool spot with good light where it will flower for many weeks. Water regularly and keep the compost in the pot damp at all times. You can stand an azalea outside over the summer. TIP: If you can get it, use soft water for this plant because, as an acid-lover, it will last longer if you reduce the amount of lime it gets. If your tap water is particularly hard, a few drops of vinegar in the water will change the acidity.



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