Love it or hate it, Christmas Time is here, so this month we’ll suggest some seasonal plants for the house that are in the shops now, and would make ideal presents to give – or receive.
The first is our all-time favourite house plant – the cyclamen (Cyclamen Persicum) whose name comes from the Greek kyklos (a spiral) since the stem that supports the flower arrangement twists before the seeds are shed. The flowers, some of which are scented, stand high above the leaves and come in a wide range of colours including white, pink, lilac, purple and red – some with ruffled edges in a different shade. The leaves are rounded, with lots of varying marbled patterns.
Cyclamen like full light (no direct sun) in cool temperature between 13 and 25 degrees centigrade. They hate high temperatures and central heating, so maintain humidity by standing them on damp pebbles if necessary. Water just when it looks as if the flowers and leaves are beginning to droop. We prefer to stand the pot in a bowl and water from the bottom – then remove and allow to drain. If you do water from the top, avoid wetting the centre of the plant. Remove dead stems by gently pulling them away at their base.
Another attractive plant is the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera Bridgesii). This succulent, which looks good in a hanging basket, has branching stems consisting of flat joints up to five centimetres long, with slightly indented edges. The trumpet-shaped flowers, in shades of magenta, rose and red, are borne at the end of the branches, with each flower lasting only from three to four days. They are produced from December to February (sometimes a bit longer).
Keep at temperatures above 13 degrees centigrade, and do not allow to dry out, or buds will drop. In spring or summer the pot can stand outdoors in a shaded place to help ripen new growth before being brought indoors again in late autumn.
Our final plant this month is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), also known as the Christmas flower. With its large bright green leaves, little yellowy flowers and enormous bright scarlet red bracts (sometimes as big as 30 centimetres across), it really gives us the colours we always associate with Christmas. There are other colours – the bracts can come in pink or creamy white – but to us they never have the same impact as that gorgeous red!
The poinsettia needs very careful watering, as over wetting will cause leaf drop, and a well-lit place away from draughts, in temperatures no lower than 13 degrees centigrade. After flowering, cut back to within 15 centimetres of the base and re-pot. It’s worth trying them outdoors in full sun in this climate. At this time of year you can occasionally see them the size of a small tree, their red bracts looking for all the world as if someone has tied big red-ribbon bows on the branches.
TIP OF THE MONTH: Small thin branches from conifers keep fresh for a long time if stood in water. Select those with small fir cones on them and hang with little baubles, etc. for pretty and free Christmas decorations.
By Olive Branch