Changing The Soil? Don't!
• When a plant is overwatered, folks change the soil.
• When the soil gets dry and hard, they change the soil.
• When they research and find "the best" potting mix for their plant, they replace the soil.
• When the soil doesn't look right or looks different, they replace it.
• When a plant attracts pests, they change the soil.
• When a plant has been in a pot for a year or more, they change the soil.
• When a plant gets overgrown they replace the pot.
• When a plant is tipping over, they replace the pot.
It seems that folks tend to believe that just about any plant problem can be solved by replacing the soil or the pot.
Replacing soil is very traumatic for most plants because doing so tears away many of the thin, fragile root hairs that do most of the work. The plant then slumps while it tries to regrow its damaged roots. This reaction is commonly called "transplant shock." But transplant shock should not happen – it is not a normal reaction. It is a sign of unnecessary stress and should not happen!
All of the situations listed above have more appropriate solutions that do not require damaging the roots.
For overwatered plants, let the soil dry out before watering again.
Hard, dry soil needs to be re-saturated by letting the pot sit in water for an hour or so.
Plants do not require annual repotting. If you are concerned about nutrient depletion, use fertilizer. If you are concerned about soil compaction, the roots will adapt as the compaction develops very gradually.
Recommended potting mixes are for starting NEW plants, not for replacing existing soil.
If you think the potting mix looks wrong, then cover it with a top dressing, such as sphagnum moss.
Most plant pests are on the leaves and stems, not in the soil. For soil-borne pests, replacing the soil will do far more harm than good and the chances are good that the new soil you use may also be infested.
Tall, overgrown, and leaning plants need to be pruned, not repotted.
Replacing soil and repotting may seem like easy and simple solutions to a variety of plant problems, but they are not. If your plant has a problem, think beyond changing the pots and soil.
Having plants in your home should be a source of pleasure, not a source of stress. Many folks who are new to plant care have gone online seeking advice on how to care for their plants. They quickly discover conflicting advice and varying suggestions about what your new plants require. Suddenly, you feel overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do with your plants. And now those plants are becoming a headache, rather than a source of joy, particularly after they start to decline.
This is a shame, and it doesn't have to be this way. Since the start of the global Pandemic, we have had too much stress in our lives with COVID and all of the changes that have been imposed on us. Now that things are starting to loosen up and more people are protected by vaccines (at least in the US), it may be time to reassess plant care.
Here is a list of things that you do NOT need to do and probably should NOT do.
• Repot or replace the soil of your plants. This usually does more harm than good. Plants do best when kept tightly potted and their roots are left undisturbed.
• Fertilizer is unnecessary for almost all plants. Save your money.
• Misting does nothing for your plants nor does raising the humidity.
• Moving your plants outside in warm weather is not necessary and may introduce new problems.
• Moisture meters, plant apps, and self-watering planters are not reliable. Save your money.
• Normal household temperatures are not a problem for houseplants. If you are comfortable, then so will your plants be.
In general, there are only two things you need to attend to when caring for your plants – LIGHT and WATER.
When a plant does not get adequate light, nothing else you do will make up for it. Learn to evaluate indoor light properly and know what the light requirements are for each of your plants.
Plant roots need water and also oxygen. They get water that we add. But the oxygen they need and that keeps the roots from suffocating is only available when we let the upper layer of soil dry out appropriately. Most plants need to have the top half-inch or so of soil get dry to your finger probe before watering. Succulents need to dry much deeper into the pot. Learn the drying out requirements of each of your plants.
Try to avoid attaching too much emotion to your plants. No plants live forever, especially in the less-than-ideal conditions of our homes. The average houseplant survives for only 1 to 3 years. If you are not prepared to have a plant die, then maybe you should reconsider having it in the first place.
Don't be too hard on yourself. Plant care is not easy and that includes the so-called "impossible to kill" plants. Every experienced green thumb has had their share of failures. For them, every plant failure is an opportunity to learn.
Finally, focus on the successes rather than failures. Plants are never perfect and they have blemishes and minor defects just like people. Don't worry or fuss over minor imperfections. Focus instead on the overall health and appearance of your plants. Sometimes, we need to just step back and enjoy what we have. Plants are in our homes to give us joy and pleasure!
Getting rid of pests on your indoor plants is one of the most vexing aspects of owning plants. I can remember feeling so frustrated that I contemplated (but didn't!) discarding all of my houseplants. So often, I followed treatment instructions only to have the pests reappear again a month or two later and I would have to start treatment all over again!.
It is possible to successfully eradicate most indoor plant critters safely. The secret to success is not WHAT you use to treat them, but HOW you apply that treatment.
Pesticides: Why or Why Not?
Pesticides contain chemicals that are often potent and very effective in treating plant pests. Most pesticides have a residual effect. That means that the residue left after treatment will last long enough to kill any pests that escaped the original treatment. The downside of pesticides is that they are toxic substances that can be harmful to people, pets, and the environment. This is especially true in enclosed indoor spaces. For that reason, I do not use or recommend the use of chemical pesticides. I understand that is a personal choice. Fortunately, there are safe alternatives.
Safe alternative treatments work only when they make direct contact with all of the pests. They do not have the residual effect that pesticides do. That means that safe treatments must be applied thoroughly enough that the spray makes direct contact with every single critter. If you miss a few, they will survive, reproduce, and the infestation will return. It is the failure to get complete coverage that is the primary reason such treatments fail.
So, the key to treating indoor plant pests effectively is to get complete coverage of all leaf and stem surfaces of the infested plant. That means spraying thoroughly enough that all of the leaves and stems are dripping wet as the spray solution washes over the plant surfaces. If you miss even a few of the nearly invisible juvenile pests, they will survive, reproduce, and the infestation will return. This is a messy task best done outside if possible.
For spider mites a solution of plain water mixed with a squirt of liquid dish soap is effective. For mealybugs and scale insects, mix 5 parts water with one part alcohol and a squirt of dish soap.
Fungus gnats are usually introduced with contaminated packaged potting soils that are used when people repot their plants. This is a common problem as packaged potting mixes are not regulated. The best solution is to not repot. Gnat larvae in the soil will mature, develop wings and fly out.
To treat fungus gnats, first remove and discard all loose soil from the top surface that is not in immediate contact with the roots. Doing so will also discard many of the larvae that live in the uppermost portion of soil and it will allow the soil in the root zone to dry out sooner. Letting the soil dry as deep as possible without harming the plant is the best solution because the gnat larvae require moisture to survive.
Mosquito Bits are a natural solution that can sometimes help. Yellow sticky traps help detect where the gnats are coming from. But the winged adults only live for about a week before they die of old age. Eradication of the larvae in the soil is the key. Sand, cinnamon, and diatomaceous earth, and other folk remedies are of very limited value in treating the gnat larvae.
Most other critters found in the soil are harmless and most will gradually die off on their own.
Of course, preventing pest problems in the first place should be an important goal. None of the treatments mentioned above is effective in preventing pest problems. Many years ago, I realized that I was finally having very few pest problems. I realized that as I had learned how to care for my plants better, there were fewer pest issues. That is because, like people, healthy plants have an excellent natural resistance to low-level pest and disease problems. A healthy, well-cared-for plant rarely will have pest problems.
The other side of that coin is that when you discover a pest on a plant, it is a good indication that that plant is under stress for other reasons, usually improper light or watering. It is quite possible to successfully treat a pest problem but the plant dies anyway; not because of the pests, but because of the underlying condition that was not corrected. So, whenever you discover pests on your plants, be sure to take that as a sign that your plants may have another underlying problem that needs to be corrected.
Houseplant owners are often on a quest to find the best potting soil for their plants, often thinking that if their plant is potted in better soil, then that will solve their plant problems.
In fact, the opposite is true. Replacing soil is one of the most damaging things that can be done to a plant's root system Doing so also tears away many of the tiny root hairs that do most of the work. That is the cause of what is commonly called "transplant shock." When plants are repotted correctly, there should not be any transplant shock. Such shock is not a normal reaction.
The best soil for any potted plant is the soil it is already growing in. Plants are remarkable in their ability to adapt to a variety of different soils. But imposing a sudden change around their roots is not something they can adapt to easily. The nursery potting soil may not "look right" to you, but the nursery knows better than you or any research info you have found online. It is their business to get it right.
(NOTE: If you are purchasing plants online from individuals, then all bets are off!)
New plants should be left in their nursery pots with their roots and soil left undisturbed for at least several months and probably a lot longer, regardless of what you think of the soil's appearance or its porosity. Even the presence of critters in the soil does not warrant replacing the soil. Nor does waterlogged soil justify replacing it.
Before you purchase a plant make sure there are no visible critters in the soil and that the soil is not waterlogged. If it is then don't buy it, regardless of the bargain price.
If you discover pests in the soil, there are ways to treat them that do not require replacing the soil or using pesticides. If soil is waterlogged, let it dry out.
Sometimes, fresh potting soil. Is needed when a plant has truly outgrown its pot or when rooting cuttings for the first time. That is when you need to know what is a good potting mix.
A good potting mix for indoor use will be soilless and either peat or coir (ground coconut husks) based. Garden soils contain a variety of contaminants that are harmless outdoors but not something you want inside. For your indoor plants avoid potting mixes that are described as multip-purpose and contain soil, humus, compost, forest products, and other "all-natural, organic" products. These ingredients are all potential sources of fungus gnat larvae and other undesirable critters. They also tend to keep the soil damp for too long as do water retaining ingredients promoted as "moisture control."
A good indoor potting mix will contain mostly peat moss or coir and have added perlite and a bit of lime to reduce the acidity. When limited to those essential ingredients, you are very unlikely to introduce any pests or diseases to your plants.
Unnecessary repotting is the single most common mistake that folks make. If you're contemplating repotting, think twice and make sure it is really necessary before proceeding. Only badly potbound plants need repotting. There are no other good reasons to repot.
However, it is sometimes necessary to repot a plant into a larger pot. When repotting, you must do it correctly. Here are a few basic rules that must be followed.
1. Repot up one-size only. That means a pot that is either one or two inches wider. Going too large will increase the chances of root suffocation.
2. Use a pot that has one or more drain holes. Using a sealed pot and adding stones in the bottom instead is an outdated and discredited practice.
3. Use a potting mix appropriate for your plant – very porous with extra perlite mixed throughout for succulents, for example.
4. Use a potting mix that is soilless and sterile to avoid pest problems such as fungus gnats, centipedes, and mushrooms.
5. When removing the potbound plant that you are repotting, loosen the outer roots just a bit but leave the rootball and its soil intact. Never try to remove the original soil.
6. Place enough new potting mix in the bottom of the new pot so that the top of the rootball is a half-inch or so below the rim. If the plant sits too low, add more soil underneath to raise the rootball.
7. Add potting mix under and around the rootball, but never on top of the original rootball.
8. Center the plant and make sure it is straight and attractive to your eye, then water thoroughly.
9. Finally, add more soil if any settles too deeply into the pot and make sure the plant is upright and stable.