2011-08-25 / News

Caring for your potted plants

The Island Garden
BY ROGER MARSHALL

The gardening season is slowly winding down as the nights begin to get shorter and cooler, although you’d be hard pressed to notice it right now. With the end of the outdoor growing season in sight, it’s time to think about what plants need to go back indoors for the winter. Before you put anything back inside it pays to begin a simple process to ensure they make the transition easily.

While your plants are outside, check their root balls. That means turn the plant on its edge, thump on the bottom of the pot with your fist and pull the pot off the plant. If the plant roots are going around and around it is time to repot your plant. If they are a tangled mess, it’s time to put them in a larger pot and comb the roots out to get the plant growing again.

Repotting is not difficult. Simply find a pot one or two sizes larger than your existing pot. For example, if you have an 8-inch pot, use a 10-inch pot; or if you plant is in a 12-inch pot, find a 14-inch-diameter pot.

At this end of the season you can usually find good bargains at outlet stores as they try to get rid of summer stock. Make sure the holes in the bottom of your new pot are clear and put a few flat stones or pieces of broken clay pot over them. This is simply to stop the dirt falling out of your pot and to keep the waterways clear. Next put 2 to 4 inches of new soil in the bottom of your pot. Put less soil if you have had to tease tangled roots out. (You’ll find out why in a moment.)

Set your plant on top of the soil and fill about halfway up the sides of the pot. If you have had to untangle roots, lift your plant slightly to allow the soil to flow around the untangled roots. Now press the soil into place to hold your plant in the middle of the pot. At this point the original soil level should be about an inch below the top of the new pot. If not, adjust it to make it so. Continue to pack soil around the plant and press it firmly into place until the pot is filled to the level of the original soil. I like to place about a quarter-inch of soil over the old stuff to make it look as if the plant is sitting in new soil. Water your plant until water flows out the bottom of the pot. Pour excess water out of the reservoir by tipping the pot. You will probably find that the new soil will sink a little and you may need to top it up.

Now leave your plant until it is fairly dry. To find out how dry it is, poke your finger into the soil. If your finger comes out wet, do not water. Only water when your finger feels dry.

You should stop fertilizing about now also. This will acclimate your plant to slower winter growth. It also ensures that new growing tips will be hardened off before you move your plant indoors.

If you wish to prune your plant, now is also a good time to do it. Clip it back as far as you want and leave it. Do not wait until late September to prune it. In September your plant may not grow many more leaves and you will spend winter looking at the pruned twigs.

You should also spray your plants with an insecticide at least three weeks before you move them indoors. Spray them again a week before you move your plants back inside to kill off any insects that may have been eggs when you first sprayed.

When you move your plants back indoors, your plants will often make a growth spurt. That’s fine, but don’t encourage more growth by feeding with fertilizer. Let growth slow and the plant become accustomed to the lower light levels and lower humidity indoors. Don’t fertilize until next spring. Let the plant rest for the winter and enjoy its foliage.

Some plants require specific regimes to help to get them to flower. For example, clivia needs a prolonged period of quite low temperatures (about 40 degrees) to ensure the flowers climb above the leaves. If you keep your clivia in the house, it usually does not get cold enough at night and will set its flowers among the leaves. Let your clivia dry right out before watering – it likes to be on the dry side.

Rosemary is another plant that needs special care. Rosemary likes humidity so you should set it on a tray of water with a few pebbles to keep the pot out of the water. Or set your rosemary bush among other plants that create their own microclimate around it. With just a little care you can enjoy your plants all year round, instead of only in summer.

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