Les’ Patch: Choosing the best houseplants

Les Foden.
Les Foden.

If you are planning on giving a houseplant as a gift think in terms of changing temperatures and erratic watering.

One of the easiest is the spider plant (Chlorophytum) with long, narrow, green and white leaves.

If thinking of an azalea don’t buy one that is in tight bud as there is no guarantee that the flowers will open because of the change of environment.

It’s safest to buy one that is mainly in bud but with one or two flowers open.

Azaleas prefer a temperature of 50 to 55F and there is no need for feeding when in bud or flower.

When the buds or flowers begin to wilt slightly they should be watered with rainwater at room temperature.

Tap water may contain lime which azaleas don’t like. The best idea is to keep a jug of rainwater in the house to use on azaleas.

The most popular of all the Christmas plants is the poinsettia with its brilliant red bracts. There are also varieties with pink, white or cream bracts.

They need a sunny situation with a temperature of 60 to 65F.

Water only when needed as too much will result in the plant dropping its lower leaves.

Perhaps the loveliest flowering houseplant is the cyclamen and the peak period of demand is around Christmas although not the easiest time to keep them in their pomp.

Cyclamen need light, airy conditions, around 50 to 55F, but will not tolerate draughts.

When watering cyclamen don’t get the base of the stems or the corm wet as this may cause rotting.

The safest way is to plunge the pot into a bowl of water at room temperature, allowing the water to come up the outside of the pot to just below compost level.

Let it soak for 20 minutes or so and then drain.

No more water should be given until the compost is almost dry and the plant at the brink of flagging.

Whatever type of plant, never leave it at night in the cold death trap between curtains and window or in the cold wind tunnel effect of the hearth of an open fire.

When purchasing plants from a garden centre always take a carrier bag or dustbin liner with you, but be sure to turn the liner inside out as it may have been treated with a chemical which in turn may not be good for the plant.

The reason for the bags is to put newly bought plants in them because the temperature outside will be completely different from the temperature in the garden centre.

Even with a cold wind blowing the bags will protect the plants until you reach home.

Once home spray the plant with the pest control Provado Ultimate Bug Killer.

This may seem a little strange but lots of times you not only take home the plant but some form of pest. This spray lasts for six or seven weeks against pest attacks.

This spray should also be used on plants taken inside for winter protection.

Ever shortening days, wet and windy weather and trees shredding their leaves all make their mark on the garden.

But you can get interesting plants for the garden that will cheer you up when looking through the window.

Try Salix Alba Vitellina, Britzensis.

The stems of this shrubby willow glow scarlet and orange.

Then there is the brilliant red stems of Cornus Alba which make nice backcloths to the late yucca in full flower.

The deep red, purple and white fruits of evergreen Pernettya add sparkle as well.

For sheer elegance at the year’s end there is little to rival the glorious plumes of the pampas grass (Cortaderia Selloana).

With December and the approach of deep winter the garden takes on an air of quietness.

Cold but clear days may be used to tackle those jobs forgotten during busier times.

Trees and shrubs which overhang or obstruct paths may be pruned back to give ease of access.

Ditches, gullies and drains cleaned out and kept clear will prevent a build up of surface water during periods of heavy rainfall.

Apply wood preservative to garden seats and sheds and structures such as pergolas, archways and trellis.

Look at the structure of the garden and make notes as to how it can be improved in the coming year.