Top Gardening Tips: Three winter-flowering house plants to give as Christmas gifts
Fancy a change from classic poinsettias? Here are three alternative houseplants which should last through Christmas and beyond
1. Evergreen azalea
Favourites include the white-flowered forms of Rhododendron simsii – the Indian Azalea – which will be smothered in elegant blooms for many weeks. To keep them looking their best, choose a cool but well-lit spot and make sure the compost doesn't dry out. Azaleas dislike being kept inside for long periods of time, so you could try transferring them to a sheltered position in the garden once the weather warms up, making sure they are re-potted into a container filled with ericaceous compost.
These delicate-looking beauties come in a huge range of colours. However, often gardeners have trouble with them as they can turn black and collapse within a short time if they don't have the right conditions. They will die if they are left in warm, dark places or overwatered – yet if given the right treatment, they are potentially long-lived. Place it in a bright, cool position (13-18C). They will do well on or near south and west-facing windowsills in the winter. Water plants from the bottom by standing the container in water.
3. Christmas cactus
These undemanding plants provide a burst of vivid colour and a touch of the tropics to windowsills in winter. Generally bought from garden centres in bud; blooms between mid November and late January. Water at the roots – pour water into the base you are resting the pot in. Just before flowering, the plants should be kept cool and dryish until the flower buds form, and then you can increase water and temperature. Don't water for six weeks after plants have finished blooming, giving them time to rest; when new growth appears, repot with new topsoil. Can be placed outside in summer in a shady spot.