2015-01-22 / From The Garden

Time to Tend to Houseplants!

By Cynthia Gibson

Besides perusing your pile of seed catalogs, and making a list of plants to order for spring, it is time to give a good look at your houseplants. Is the soil old and does it feel like a brick? Do your plants need repotting? Are aphids or nasty scales sitting prettily on your precious green leaves and stems? It is January, the month custom made to take care of indoor plant problems.

There is nothing like a south facing windowsill filled with potted plants that flower this time of year, and any greenery perks up your spirits during the gloomy days of winter.

Pot-bound plants come in two categories. Some plants adore being trapped in a terracotta house while others cannot wait to jump into a new home. Clivia and Christmas cactus love being pot-bound but most do not. Plants that like to move on to a new subdivision are the spider plant, African violet, asparagus fern, cast-iron plant, wax begonia, Chinese evergreen, most ferns, many palms, piggyback plant and spathiphyllum. These decorative plants should not be bursting out of their pots.

When repotting and or separating new plants by their roots, their new home does not have to be a McMansion. Make sure the new pot has a hole in the bottom for drainage; also see to it that the depth of the pot can hold the new root system. Buy new potting soil with "Perlite.”

Spider plants are great for children. Not only do they flower and look like spiders, new plants are propagated on the long stems from which the baby spider plants grow. Repotting these plants, dividing them and creating new ones is the easiest thing to do. Many children just love getting their hands dirty, so why not let them do it with a purpose?

The family spider plant is overflowing with small spiders. Take the baby growing at the end of the stem, and place it in a small pot of soil. Water it weekly and watch that baby spider turn into a gigantic tarantula!

GARDEN TIPS:

. If the plants are grown for their foliage and the soil is packed with roots (ferns can easily become root/pot-bound) soak the entire plant, pot and all, in a bucket of water overnight, but no longer. This will loosen the roots and make the plant easier to take out of the pot the next day.

. A little bit of plant food goes a long way with many houseplants. Check the information on the bag of potting soil to find out if it includes fertilizer or not. No fertilizer until the plant takes hold is a good rule of green thumb. Fertilizer on newly-forming roots can easily burn them.

. If you are repotting or dividing plants that flower, tap the pot on the sink to loosen the soil from the sides of the plant, then carefully turn the plant upside-down with your other hand catching the plant. Place it on a piece of newspaper until the new pot is ready to receive the plant. Repotting in the kitchen is a great place for this winter project. There are paper towels, a sink, and water at your fingertips.

. This is also the time of year to check the leaves and stems of your plants for insects. I use "Safer" houseplant insect spray, available at Newport Hardware Store, Ace Hardware, and garden centers on our island.

. To get rid of scale, the oddlooking black dots found on the stem, use a Q-tip with rubbing alcohol on each dot. I dilute my rubbing alcohol (two parts alcohol to one part water).

. If you have infestations of good old-fashioned sap sucking aphids, a good, but gentle blast of water will force them to tumble off of the plant and into your sink and disposal. It works like a charm.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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