Join Date: Nov 2008
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Spring Houseplant Prep
Outdoors? Phooey! Many of us are forced to do our 'gardening' indoors this time of year & possibly for several months yet until our prized babies can be trusted to the elements. Of course, I'm talking houseplants!
Most of them have been napping these last several months, growing very slowly if at all & needing very little in terms of water. But spring is right around the corner & these next few weeks are an excellent time to get them off to a great start for the coming growing season. Some plants will need repotting, many will need fresh soil & a little shot of fertilizer & many that are growing 'badly' can be trimmed & cleaned up over the next few weeks, getting them off to a fine start.
First thing to do - have a look at your current houseplants, see which ones might need moving up to a bigger pot. If you have the larger pots you need - great. Give them a good washing out - dish soap & a drop or two of bleach will do it. I always plan, when I'm going to move plants up to larger pots to start with the biggest plants first. Often that way, the pots I've moved a plant out of, can be cleaned up & used to repot a smaller plant that needs moving up. Figure out how many new pots you might need & over the next week or two, pick them up - garage sales, thrift shops, new if you wish; just give any you buy a quick wash. Pick up a bag or two of potting soil - it's cheap & it's never a bad idea to have a bit more than you need.
Before any repotting happens, plants could probably use a 'bath'. My small ones, I simply place in the bath tub & use a spray bottle to spray the behoozles out of the leaves. My water is hard so I use water filtered through a Brita that I've let warm up to room temperature - it cuts down on spotting. Start at the top & keep spraying, including the undersides of the leaves. That will enable the leaves to take up more carbon dioxide more easily & grow more robustly. Bigger plants that I can't lift into the tub, I surround with bath towels due for the wash & accept the floor is going to get a bit wet.
Don't worry if on some plants, a few leaves drop off while you're doing this, especially on plants that form stalks. Leaves don't live forever & often where a leaf has dropped off, a new branch will begin to grow within several weeks, making a plant look more full.
A day or so after doing this, I start the repotting process. If you have a large plant in a 'forever' pot that you don't feel like wrestling out of a pot, carefully remove the top few inches of soil or as much of that as you can without damaging roots. Then you can add some fresh soil to the top. Then, largest to smallest, one at a time & it certainly doesn't all have to be done at once or even in a day, carefully pull plants out of pots that may be too small. Don't "overpot" plants. Some blooming plants flower much better if their roots are a bit crowded, so just go one size bigger - about 1" larger in diameter. If you like your plant roughly the size it is, using an old bread knife, you can shave off the outer 1/4-1/2" of roots & repot the plant back in its original pot. Any plant that gets that treatment, should have nothing else done to it for several weeks, to let it recover. Make sure drainage holes at the bottom of pots have some kind of cover so soil doesn't spill out. A folded up J cloth or part of one works just fine. Once all your plants are repotted, let them rest a week or two.
Now, you can have fun & do some training or editing of your plants. You might have a tall plant that's lost all its bottom leaves, may be growing unevenly & just looks... sick. Dieffenbachias can be prone to this. The solution is easy. Take a small saw & take off all but the bottom 6-8" of stalk. Leave that stalk & root system in the pot where it's been growing. The rest of the stalk can be cut into 6-8" lengths. Just make sure that you cut just BELOW where a leaf had grown - that's where your roots will come from. Dip the bottom end in rooting hormone & shove the pieces of stalk in the same pot - for some reason, they seem to root better when you attempt to start them in "Mommy's" pot. Keep them watered but not too wet over the spring & summer. As long as the bottoms, near the soil, stay green, you're good. By mid to late summer, you may have new Dieffenbachias growing. You can either move them to their own pots at this time or leave them with 'Mommy'.
Other plants that form leaf crowns on stems - cordyline, aralias, etc, can be given the same treatment. Often where you've lopped off the top of a stalk, you'll notice 2 new stems start growing from a little further down where a leaf has fallen off. If done in the spring, this often forces more branching in general, leading to a fuller looking plant. You can dip the part or parts you've cut off & stick them in soil & often can get new plants that way.
Hanging plants - many love to branch & many grow really long stems. You can trim them back so they're less unwieldy & the trimming will cause more branching. With vining plants, you can insert sticks or wire forms into the pot & train the growing stems around them. I have a ponytail palm that's not living up to what it's "supposed" to do. The leaves are easily 5' long, rather than 3' long. It has produced what I think is a baby these last few months but I'm not sure - LOL. It has one little seed leaf that doesn't look long & strappy like the others. But there it sits & will stay until I figure out what it is. I have it in a macramé hanger & it's outgrown the height of that; I really need to find a longer hanger.
Rosette forming flowering houseplants: things like African violets. A week or so after repotting, carefully remove broken or old leaves. I use an Exacto knife or scalpel. Most of my violets, over the winter, have formed several crowns. I'm supposed to separate those but I'll confess I'm afraid to because I'm not sure how to do that without killing them! I have a few multi-crowned ones that do just fine - lots of flowers so there's no rush. One thing I do though is report violets a little deeper if they've formed a "neck" - a section of stem visible after old, bottom leaves have died. They look better & don't lean over as much.
As a rule, most flowering houseplants don't like to be in pots that are too big. Flowers are produced when a plant feels it's running out of growing room - it has a predisposition to flower & produce seed when it's a tad crowded. Take advantage of that!
Several days to a week or so after any/all housekeeping work on plants, it's time to start giving them a bit of fertilizer. Mine do best if I give them a weak shot every few weeks during the spring & summer. Another option is to buy the little fertilizer sticks that you can push into the soil - one of those in late |march, another early in July & you don't have to worry about it.
Late March is also a great time to try & start new plants from those you own. Violets are easy - cleanly cut a leaf at the base, dip it in rooting hormone & stick it in clean dirt. Give it light but not direct sun. As long as the leaf stays green, it's doing fine. Plants with thick leaves - snake plants, etc... cut those cleanly, let them air dry for a day, dip in rooting hormone powder & shove in some clean dirt. Again, as long as it stays green, it's good. Within a month or two, you'll see babies growing.
Jade plants - you can have a lot of fun with those. They'll grow in almost any light conditions & you can shape them any way you like. SO's original plant was trimmed to form a good, strong base trunk & 5 main branches. Now that spring is coming, I'm pinching out the growing tips. Most of the pinched out areas are producing 2 growing tips where there was once one, effectively doubling the size of the pant - eventually. Larger trimmings & individual leaves I've removed are rooted & being allowed to grow a little before I start training them. I'm playing with different shapes & styles - some sort of bonsai, others not so much. They're very forgiving plants & 'errors' are easily corrected.
As spring progresses, your plants will let you know when they need watering but they will need more. If in doubt though - wait a day - more plants are drowned to death than under watered.
And yes, CSue the \houseplant Doctor is happy to take questions. But not about cactus - not nearly enough experience with those.
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