Overwatering kills most plant presents

Now is the time to get to grips with your strawberry bed.

BRIAN KIDD: Strawberry fields forever – but renew them every three years

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Azaleas, cyclamen, bulbs in pots, Christmas cacti, orchids and poinsettias are the most popular indoor plants given at Christmas time.

So I thought some quick guidance on care and ensuring their survival may be a good idea this week.

Overwatering kills the majority of plants as people usually water too often. The answer is to touch the top of the compost and, when it feels dry, give the pot some water in a shallow container under the pot.

Leave to allow the compost to soak up water for 15 minutes and then allow the pot to drain.

Never leave plants in saucers of water – they are not water lilies!

Azaleas, cyclamen and bulbs in pots enjoy plenty of light from a window, but not direct sunshine, and are best kept in cold rooms rather than in fluctuating temperatures.

Cyclamen brought indoors in September will still be perfect right up until February if kept cool and watered correctly.

Christmas cacti, orchids and poinsettias need to be kept in warmer conditions and, due to the warmth, will require more water.

Rainwater is perfect, but a teaspoon of vinegar in a pint of water is sufficient to counteract the chalk in our water.

Water as described above, never overwater.

Having ensured the plants survive until the parties are all over, we must now keep in mind their welfare.

As soon as flowers fade, remove individual blooms complete with the seed heads.

Dead blooms on cyclamen are removed by giving the stem a sharp tug so that none of the stem is left behind to rot. Remove any dead leaves, too, this keeps the plants looking smart.

If you have received a moth orchid and need some advice, I can send you a copy of what was written about these gems earlier this year.

But I can assure you there will be blooms for months as long as they have plenty of light and rainwater.

If you’re going away on holiday for a week after Christmas, how can you ensure your new plants will have enough water whilst you’re gone?

Half-fill the kitchen sink and place a tea towel on the draining board so that the end of the towel is well down into the water.

Leave the tea towel for two hours by which time it will be soaking wet.

Place the potted plants on the wet tea towel and the compost in the pots will absorb all the water required whilst you are away.

As long as the temperature in the kitchen doesn’t fall below freezing point, the plants will be fine.

The reason why this works is because pot plants are all grown on capillary matting in nurseries and you are effectively creating the same conditions in your own kitchen.