2012-09-06 / News

The Island Garden

Bringing potted plants indoors
BY ROGER MARSHALL

Fall is coming and it’s time to check on the plants that have been outside all summer.

First check how much water is in the pot. There is a simple test for this that entails using your index finger. Push it into the pot. If it comes out with green slime attached, you overwatered. If it comes out damp or wet, there is no need to water. If it comes out dry, you do need to water. If your finger comes out broken, the soil is way too dry and has set up like concrete. To fix this will need to submerge the plant in a large pot of water to wet it out thoroughly – and then visit Jamestown Family Practice.

Next, you’ll need to check to see how many plants need repotting. This part is easy: simply hold your plant in one hand, upend it, then bang it hard on the bottom with your fist or an open hand. The result will tell you whether your plant needs repotting. If the tray under the plant pours water down your front when you upend it, I’d suggest pouring off the water and changing your pants and shoes. When your plant has dried out a little you can try again.

There are some basic rules. The first rule is to only check a plant that you can easily lift. Larger plants rapidly become pot bound to ensure that you cannot move them – ever. If the plant is heavy, be assured that the moment you bang on the bottom it will leave the pot, prove way too heavy for you to hold with one hand, and land on your foot. This is a good reason for you to water your plants before repotting. When the soil is wet, it simply makes a splat. If it as dry as concrete, it will land on your foot with unerring aim and you will need to visit Jamestown Family Practice – again.

There is no need to repot when the entire pot full of soil leaves the pot with a whumph! and lands on your shoes. You end up holding a bare-rooted plant, an empty pot, and a mess on the floor. That tells you that the roots have not yet expanded far enough to bind the soil together and the plant does not need repotting. You need to hastily gather the mess, stuff the plant into the pot, and heap the pile back into the pot. Tamp it down well and water it in.

If the roots have grown through the bottom of the pot and into the surrounding soil, you will throw your back out when you try to lift the pot. You will need to hobble into the kitchen and find a large knife to prune away the roots. You know this plant has grown larger than its pot, so it needs repotting. The alternative is to simply smash the pot, pile up the soil around your plant, and turn it into an attractively mounded landscape feature. This works when your plant is hardy to this area, otherwise you will have a mound of soil that in winter, freezes hard, and breaks your snow shovel every time you have to shovel the white stuff.

If the plant is root bound – that is, the roots go around and around the bottom of the pot – you need to repot it into a larger-sized pot. If the tangle of roots is thick, you might need to go up two sizes of pot. You will also need to trim the roots to ensure they spread into the new soil. Trimming roots is easy. Hold the plant in one hand and use a kitchen knife to cut through the circular roots, stick yourself in the hand, or sever the main plant root and kill it stone dead. Whatever you do, be gentle. That way you can drive yourself to Jamestown Family Practice instead of calling the EMTs.

Plant roots will hang down when you have successfully trimmed them and you can set the plant into the new pot after filling it one-third full of potting soil. (Try not to get the bandages too dirty.) The potting soil should be slightly higher in the middle where you set the plant. Spread its roots out carefully and fill the pot with potting soil to within an inch of the rim. The soil level on the plant should be the same as the soil level before you hacked at it.

So you see, potting up plants is relatively easy. But it should only be attempted during the hours that Jamestown Family Practice is open, otherwise you may have to drive to the Newport emergency room while covered in potting soil.

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