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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Spring Houseplant Care

One way to satisfy the urge to garden this time of year is to do some spring cleaning of your houseplants. This is the perfect time of year to trim, repot, and divide houseplants. It's also a great time to evaluate any special garden plants overwintered in the house or garage.

Many of my houseplants become somewhat leggy indoors, even those that I keep under supplemental lighting. I resist the urge to cut these plants back until the increased sunshine of spring returns. Most houseplants' growth slows or stops altogether during the winter months.

Pruning or trimming houseplants encourages new growth on the plants, and doing so during the dimly lit winter months does nothing but encourage weak, spindly growth.

It's a good idea no matter what time of year it is to remove dead and dying foliage from houseplants. Somewhere I once read that a "yellowed leaf never turns green again". This is very true. Sometimes leaves that look a bit pale can be revved up with a dose of fertilizer, but once a leaf has turned totally yellow it is a goner.

Spring is the perfect time of year to repot plants that need larger living quarters. When repotting, choose pots that are only an inch or two bigger than the existing pot. Choosing a pot that is dramatically larger will result in a large volume of soil that doesn't contain roots. When watered, this large soil volume stays wet for extended periods because it is not populated with roots to take up the available water. This may encourage root rots.

When repotting, use a high quality soilless mix which drains well. Soilless mix consists of an organic component, typically peat moss or bark, plus a mineral component such as vermiculite, perlite, and/or sand. These mixes are lightweight and allow for good drainage and healthy root growth. Mixes containing soil are typically too heavy and retain too much moisture in pots, contributing to root rots.

My personal experience with inexpensive potting soil resulted in the demise of my amaryllis collection I had amassed during college. As a poor starving graduate student I repotted my bulbs using a "potting soil" that was on sale and it drained very poorly. The excess moisture around the bulbs resulted in them rapidly deteriorating and rotting. Needless to say I learned my lesson and have never purchased that type of potting mix again.

As new growth begins in the spring it is the perfect time to propagate many houseplants. Dividing or taking cuttings are common ways to propagate houseplants. Call the Master Gardener Help Desk at (217) 877-6872 for information on the best methods for particular plants.

If you have taken the time to overwinter tender bulbs or tropical plants this winter, now is the time to assess whether your efforts were successful. Tender bulbs should be firm, not shriveled or mushy, and dormant or semi-dormant plants should be showing signs of life.

Most every houseplant will benefit from a summer "vacation" spent outdoors. Plants that are considered "high light" lovers will generally do well in full sun outdoors, and those requiring "medium" or "low light" will usually prefer a shaded location.

But before you rush to move your plants outdoors on that first warm sunny day, keep in mind that the average frost-free date for central Illinois is May 15th (around Mother's Day is another handy way to remember this date).

Also remember that plants moved to a sunny patio after a dim winter indoors may suffer sunburned leaves. The "textbook" guideline is to move plants outside gradually starting with a short time each day, building up to being outside 24/7. Personally, I don't have the time nor the patience to move all my plants in and out every day. Every year I end up putting everything outside at once and I deal with a few sunburned leaves—and if I'm not careful I end up sunburned as well!

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