Alexandra Campbell gives advice on houseplants
Alexandra Campbell suggests houseplants can brighten up the post-christmas gloom.
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. ■