Extending the life of your potted plants

Pot plants are among the most popular gifts given at Christmas, but for many people, how to care for them so that they last as long as possible can present a problem.

The more common hyacinths, poinsettias, cyclamen and bowls of mixed plants were covered last week but there are many others.

With African violet, proper name saintpaulia, it is possible to have several flushes over an extended period given warmth, avoiding cold draughts and sudden changes in temperature, good light, high humidity, feeding and care when it comes to watering. Keep the compost moist but wait until the surface dries out before adding more. Tepid water is best. It is not essential to give water from below every time but it is beneficial occasionally.

If your plant is a so-called Christmas cactus then this month will be its flowering period. The common complaint with them is that they never flower again, or if they do, then with only a few blooms.

To flower well they need a rest after flowering and it is February through to April when watering is much restricted. Keep in a sheltered and shady spot outdoors during summer, on the dry side and then in autumn start watering, Bring them indoors into the warmth and buds should begin to form.

With Christmas cacti the buds are easily knocked off so don’t move it around too much. Find a suitable spot in a room and leave it there.

House plants that do require ample watering at this time are azaleas. These evergreen specimens are thirsty plants and underwatering is the most likely cause of wilt and death. They are purchased smothered in buds and blooms, thriving best in the coolest of rooms. They can be kept for another time by leaving them outside all summer in their pot in a sheltered spot, bringing them back indoors in the autumn.

Even those people without the talent of ‘green fingers’ will be able to produce a ‘giant’ of a flower - that’s the amaryllis. To some people they are too ostentatious but you really can’t fail (certainly the first year) to have a plant sporting gigantic trumpet-shaped flowers often with two, three or four blooms.

If the bulb is regularly watered and fed throughout the summer, these can be encouraged to bloom again. Let them rest and dry out from September to November, then start watering to encourage new growth.