Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
February, 2009
Regional Report

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It's time to conquer, divide, and transplant these overcrowded succulents.

Recharge Your Houseplants

As I was looking over my houseplants this past week and anticipating spring with the mild weather outside, it was time to take some action and recharge the indoor garden. Even with my best intentions, it's easy to forget your houseplants, especially when it comes to their potting soil. Though indoor plants can go for years in the same soil mix, it will eventually diminish in structure and nutrient value.

Since I'm the kind of gardener that doesn't transplant houseplants often, it pays to start with a quality potting soil. You don't want to skimp on the growing medium as it is key to success with indoor plants. My preference is a general purpose potting mix that contains shredded sphagnum peat moss, clean compost, vermiculite or perlite for pore space, and slow-release nutrients. If you have cacti and succulents that need sharper drainage, add coarse sand or scoria at 20 percent by volume. I like to moisten the mix slightly prior to repotting so it will more readily absorb water after transplanting.

Most houseplants can be replanted in the same pot or container they came out of. However, if the plant's roots have completely filled the pot and and the plant hasn't been divided or split in a few years, I highly recommend that you move it up to a larger pot. A pot that is two to three inches wider in diameter is fine. If you plan on returning the houseplant to the same container, clean out the old soil and crusty accumulated salts with a scouring pad. Then rinse with warm water.

It's not rocket science to take plants out of their pots, but some practical tips might be helpful. With compacted potting soils, I like to loosen the soil mix from the sides of the pot with an old butter knife. You can also try to carefully tap the pot gently on a wooden work bench. Turn the plant upside down while holding your hand over the base of the plant and tap sharply on the bench. Once the plant is out of the container, gently loosen the roots and take scissors to clip off damaged or dead roots. You can identify healthy roots by their lighter color and fleshy texture. This is a good time to cut away any dead or damaged stems on the upper portions.

As for the repotting process, place an inch or so of soil mixture in the bottom of the container and then set the trimmed root ball back in the pot. It is not necessary to put sand in the bottom of the pot as it will not improve drainage, but actually do the opposite. Then, add soil mixture around the sides of the root ball and gently firm with your fingers. Water the soil mix thoroughly with tepid or room temperature water to settle the soil and eliminate any air pockets.

Now you're ready to put your recharged houseplants back to their original growing spots. So keep your green thumb itch under control by taking time in February to giving attention to the indoor garden.

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