Alexan­dra Camp­bell gives ad­vice on house­plants

Alexan­dra Camp­bell sug­gests house­plants can brighten up the post-christ­mas gloom.

The People's Friend - - This Week -

AS you clear away Christ­mas, house­plants are the best way to cheer up the Jan­uary gloom. Poin­set­tias, amaryl­lis, or­chids, cy­cla­men and pots of bulbs are most pop­u­lar, with favourites such as san­sev­e­ria, Mon­stera de­li­ciosa, spi­der plants and as­pidis­tras fast be­com­ing fash­ion­able.

Or­chids were the UK’S most pop­u­lar house­plant, but they are los­ing ground to the “fo­liage” plants with ex­otic-look­ing leaves.

But how to look after them? Firstly, let’s not beat our­selves up about those house­plants that don’t sur­vive. Many are trop­i­cal or semi-trop­i­cal plants, so it’s not sur­pris­ing they’re not happy in the gloom of a UK win­ter.

Even pro­fes­sional plant grow­ers have plants die, so if a house­plant makes you happy for sev­eral weeks then dies, that’s nor­mal. It was prob­a­bly more lon­glast­ing and cheaper than fresh flow­ers, so pop it on the com­post heap.

If it’s a pot of bulbs, then it may be worth re­plant­ing in the soil – I’ve had suc­cess with pot hy­acinths and pot cy­cla­men, al­though they’ll take two sea­sons be­fore they flower again.

I feel frus­trated when I see care in­struc­tions read­ing Keep in a bright place away from di­rect sun­light. In most of Britain’s ter­raced homes there is no such place.

In win­ter, our light lev­els are even lower, so most plants need to be nearer the win­dow. How­ever, your win­dow-sill may be draughty or very cold at night, and many house­plants don’t like that.

Find­ing the per­fect po­si­tion is tricky. If you have dou­ble or sec­ondary glaz­ing then a win­dow-sill may be OK.

The sec­ond is­sue is that most plants ei­ther die from over-wa­ter­ing, un­der­wa­ter­ing or er­ratic wa­ter­ing. It seems con­fus­ing. Once a week is fine for most house­plants in the win­ter. Don’t let them sit in a pool of wa­ter if they drain into their pot or saucer.

Many plants don’t like be­ing in draughts or on top of ra­di­a­tors. House­plant ex­perts say never buy house­plants, such as poin­set­tias, that are sold next to the doors of a su­per­mar­ket. The draughts will shorten their lives.

So if you don’t have the per­fect spot for a house­plant, put it where you en­joy see­ing it, then dis­pose of it when it dies.

You will soon dis­cover which plants do well in your house, and you can often take cut­tings. These will grow up ac­cli­ma­tised to your con­di­tions, so they are likely to do very well.

Many house­plants can be prop­a­gated by cut­ting a healthy, non-flow­er­ing stem be­low a node (a bump on the stem). Cut off lower leaves, leav­ing just one or two and a length of stem.

Put into a small vase of wa­ter. Re­pot when it grows roots. Many house­plants, such as African vi­o­lets, can be prop­a­gated like this.

Bear in mind that la­belling is not al­ways cor­rect. I bought an as­pidis­tra, only to be in­formed by sev­eral botanists that it was ac­tu­ally a Ken­tia palm.

You will find the name Ze­bra plant on both calathea and aphe­landra. This only mat­ters if you are look­ing up how to look after a plant.

The care is often preprinted on a la­bel, so if your plant has the wrong la­bel, you may be giv­ing it the wrong care. An as­pidis­tra will be fine in low light, for ex­am­ple, but a Ken­tia palm needs more.

If your plant flour­ishes, treat it as you care for your plants out­doors. It will ben­e­fit from prun­ing and shap­ing in early spring, al­though you can cut dead leaves and branches off any time.

In sum­mer, it will need a reg­u­lar house­plant feed, be­cause it can’t ac­cess the soil. Re­pot it ev­ery two years us­ing a spe­cial­ist house­plant com­post. ■

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