A poinsettia or a cyclamen is an ideal emergency Christmas present. You know what I mean: all of a sudden you're invited somewhere or you remember someone you’ve forgotten to buy a Christmas present.

A Christmas flowering house plant is the ideal solution, whether poinsettia, cyclamen, azalea or jasmine. Or the moth orchid.

White indoor cyclamen. Poinsettia

White indoor cyclamen

Poinsettias have become part of Christmas

These colourful plants with their red bracts (modified or specialised leaves) and tiny yellow flowers are a member of the very varied spurge family and originated in Mexico. Once you know where they come from it’s easy to understand that they don’t like rapid variation in temperature, they don’t like cold temperatures (below 13C) and they don’t like draughts.

Help your poinsettia!

So help your poinsettia to meet the huge challenge of cold air on the journey from garden centre or shop to home. When you buy one, make sure it’s wrapped up warmly, well above the top of the plant. Don’t leave it in a cold car for ages, and shelter it from the cold if you’re at a gusty bus stop or on a windy railway platform. (In fact, think twice if the weather is like this. Perhaps the smaller cyclamen would be a better choice.)

When your poinsettia arrives at its destination, don’t take it straight into a hot, dry room. Let it acclimatise for a while. Then place the pot on a tray of damp gravel or pebbles to provide a humid atmosphere which will prolong the life of the bracts. Wait until the surface of the compost dries out and then water thoroughly; don't overwater. Feed once a week with houseplant fertiliser. And if your plant wilts, try first aid. Soak the root ball with warm water and it should be revived in about an hour.

Christmas Day in the Glasshouse at Wisley with poinsettia under the tree.

Christmas Day in the Glasshouse at Wisley with poinsettia under the tree

If you look after your poinsettia carefully it should last till March. Enjoy!

And then you just throw it away, don't you? No, don’t do that! With a little care and attention you can keep it going and get it to colour up again for you next year. (Red is the most common colour for poinsettias but there are also pink, white and cream varieties.)

A Christmas flowering house plant is an ideal present!