Houseplants are a great way to bring the outdoors into your home during winter. Especially when it’s too cold and dark to go out in the garden.
Christmas is a popular time of year for houseplants. But many varieties struggle with central heating, draughts and low light levels. So here’s how to make sure your houseplants, new and old, survive the winter.
What are the best Christmas houseplants?
Indoor plants are my favourite way to garden over winter. I love the dramatic red poinsettia and bright flowers of indoor cyclamen.
I also recommend trying Christmas azalea, Christmas cactus (Schlumberga) and orchids – either Phalaenopsis or cymbidium. They are much easier to grow than people think and all bring a touch of life and colour to your home.
Before you buy Christmas houseplants
One of the most common problems with Christmas plants like poinsettia is that they begin to wilt and die almost as soon as you get them home. They continue to decline no matter what you try. And you think you’re a plant killer.
But the truth is that the problems started before you got anywhere near it. Winter houseplants, especially poinsettia, are tender and die in cold weather. Icy draughts from open doorways in the shop can fatally damage plants before you buy them.
Make sure you buy good quality plants from a reputable supplier and check that they aren’t kept in cold conditions. You should also ask the shop to wrap them in paper or plastic bags to protect the foliage as you take the plant home. Even the journey from shop to car can harm a poinsettia!
Where to put houseplants
Plants need stable conditions, so temperature fluctuations from central heating can stress them. Don’t put them above radiators or near fires, as this dries them out.
And keep them away from the porch and the front door – icy draughts from outside can damage the foliage. Any sheltered spot with bright light levels is ideal.
How to water houseplants
Overwatering is the single biggest killer of houseplants. We call it ‘killing by kindness’. You should only water plants when the surface of the compost appears dry.
I always recommend the standing water technique. Instead of pouring water onto the compost, stand the pots in a tray or sink in an inch of tepid water. Leave for five minutes, allow to drain and put the pots back. This lets roots take up only what they need without drenching the plant.
Or you can plunge the pots into a sinkful of tepid water and hold there until no more air bubbles appear. Then allow to drain as before.
If you have houseplants that like humid conditions, such as orchids, keep them in the bathroom. Or fill a saucer with pebbles and cover with water. Sit plants on the saucer, so they get the humidity without waterlogged roots.
You can also mist houseplants with spray water. It adds to the humidity and is welcomed by plants from tropical climates like orchids and poinsettia.