As summer draws to a close, we tend to focus on enjoying the last crop of the season, clearing out spent plants, and planning next year’s garden. But houseplants now also need our attention.
Houseplants that have spent the season outdoors on vacation need a good transition home to avoid shock.
If they have grown out of their pot during their vacation, now is a good time to plant them in a larger pot. Select a container no more than 2 inches wider than the current pot and replant in fresh potting soil, then water well.
Overgrown plants can often be divided into two or more. Spider plants (Chlorophytum), peace lilies (Spathiphyllum), flamingo flowers (Anthurium), and peacock plants (Calathea) are among those with clumping root systems that lend themselves to division.
If you find it difficult to remove the plant from the pot, check to see if any roots have emerged from the container’s drainage holes. If so, pull or cut off any escaped root fibers to release the plant.
Then, to divide the plant, gently shake off as much soil as possible. Locate the junction where the top growth of the plant meets the root system and gently pull the roots apart or cut them with a sharp knife, making sure at least three healthy leaves are attached above each root section. Repot each new plant in its own pot with fresh potting soil. Keep the plant well watered (but never soggy) until new growth appears.
Whether repotting or dividing, all outdoor houseplants should be placed in a shady spot for a week or so to gradually acclimate to lower light levels before going indoors. Continue to water during this transition.
At the end of the week, inspect all plant parts for insects – including under leaves – and rinse leaves and stems thoroughly with water to prevent hitchhiking pests from entering your home. To be on the safe side, you can spray the plant with a diluted Neem oil solution.
Complete the move before nighttime temperatures outside drop below 55 degrees.
PLANTS THAT STAY INDOORS
Houseplants that have not left their windowsill all summer also need special care, as the day length becomes shorter and less sunlight slows their growth.
While not technically dormant, most houseplants rest in the fall and winter, meaning they need less water and often no fertilizer until spring. If you water too much during this time, you risk root rot and the spread of fungus gnats, which reproduce in soggy soil.
For most plants, it’s best to wait for the top two inches of soil to dry before watering. You can check for moisture by sticking your finger deep into the pot up to the knuckles.
Slower growth also means slower healing, so postpone pruning until spring. However, you can trim off dead or dying leaves or leaf tips in winter.
Most houseplants are native to the tropics and therefore require more moisture than is found in most homes, especially in colder areas where heating systems dry the air. Put a humidifier in the room or place plants on a pebble-filled container of water, creating a moist microclimate around them as the water evaporates.
Never place plants on working radiators and keep them away from cold drafts and heating grids.
Next spring, when the temperature reliably exceeds 60 degrees, it is safe to move most plants outside. However, tender tropical plants like African violets are homebodies, so leave them alone.
Jessica Damiano is a regular columnist on gardening for The Associated Press. Her garden calendar was named winner of the Garden Communicators International Media Awards 2021. Her weekly dirt newsletter won a Society of Professional Journalists PCLI 2021 Media Award. Sign up here for weekly gardening tips and advice.
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