Caring for Short-term Plants

Many popular flowering house plants are treated as short-term gift plants. Bought when in full flower, they are kept for only a few weeks while their display is at its best.

A very popular group of house plants are striking – mainly flowering – pot plants that need specialist knowledge and care to raise them and bring them to a state of near perfection.

These can be bought to be enjoyed in the home just as they start to reach their peak and in most cases they are unlikely ever to be quite as good again. They need what the Americans call ‘tender loving care’.


Such plants are often called short-term or gift plants, because of their relatively short life indoors and because they often come as gifts. Most people are prepared to use them much as they do a bunch of cut flowers and throw away when they pass their best.

Short-term plants are most popular in the months from October to March when there is less colour in the garden, when many house plants are resting and when bright colour indoors is most appreciated.

Most short-term house plants have been grown by the nurserymen under much cooler conditions than the average room temperature, and they have also enjoyed better light and much higher humidity levels. In the home you should remember these points and try as far as possible to offer the plants similar growing conditions in order to keep them at their best until their flowering season is over. Many will eventually have to be discarded, but you can experiment with keeping them for the next season, or planting outside – in favourable conditions they may bloom again.

  • Empty out any surplus water from the plant’s container to avoid waterlogging, which damages the roots.
  • Removing flowers as they die will help to prolong the flowering period and keep the plant looking good.


Ideally keep plants such as cyclamen and azalea (Rhododendron simsii) in a cool room. At temperatures of 13°15°C (55°-60°F) flowers will remain attractive for up to six weeks.


Give your plants as much light as possible in autumn, winter and early spring. No amount of winter sunshine will harm them. Also put the pots under fluorescent light at night for a supplementary ‘top-up’ of artificial light. This benefits the plants and enhances their colour. Give plants artificial light from fluorescent tubes or bulbs, or from mercury vapour lamps if needed.


See that all plants stand on generous-sized dishes, saucers or trays filled with pebbles (or sand) that is kept moist at all times. (Mist spraying is of very little value and can mark the blooms.)


Keep compost moist at all times, but well drained – never allow it to be waterlogged.


Feeding is not normally necessary.

Dead heading

Remove faded flowers to prolong the flowering period.

Short term plants to try

Azalea (Rhododendron)

Available from October to March in a wide range of flower colours. The bigger plants are more likely survive a second year (spending the summer and the autumn in the garden) because they have a better developed root system. Small plants are best thrown away when flowering is finished.

Sapphire Flower (Browallia speciosa)sapphire-flower

Available in late summer and autumn, this will continue to flower into the early winter. The sapphire-blue varieties are most attractive, and there is also a pretty white-flowered form.

Slipper Flower (Calceolaria herbeohybrida)

Available from mid-spring through summer, this comes in a range of bold flower colours, marked with crimson. There are also some lovely subtle colours.

Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)

Available through summer and autumn, this has rose-pink flowers with a deeper ‘eye’. There is also a white-flowered form. Long flowering period.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium hybrids)

Available throughout the year. Because these are plants that will only bloom when the days are short, commercial growers ‘black out’ their plants to simulate a short day. Throw them away (or plant them out in the garden) after flowering as they have a very long, dull, non-flowering period and grow tall and leggy.

Cineraria (Senecia hybridus)

Autumn, winter and spring flowering. This must be kept moist at the roots or the whole plant will collapse.


Choose from among the large-flowered forms or the smaller-flowered ones, some of which are scented, or have marbled leaves.

German or Persian Violet (Exacum affine)

This will make a mass of bloom for months on end.

Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Small plants start to appear in the shops in early spring and can be bought throughout the summer.

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