Spring Houseplants

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(HOST) In spite of the fact that there’s plenty of winter weather still ahead, commentator Henry Homeyer says that there’s something you can do to flex those green thumbs.

(HOMEYER) This is a hard time of year for gardeners. The days are getting longer, and the sun has a little punch. But it’s still too early to do much of anything in the garden.

This is a good time, however, to pay a little more attention to indoor plants. For example, that rosemary plant that you’ve tended all winter has started to grow more roots and shoots. The sun is stronger, too, so it’ll dry out more quickly. I’ve lost rosemary in the past because I didn’t pay attention to its changing needs in spring. Now, instead of watering my rosemary just once a week, it gets a drink twice a week.

Spring is the best time of year for repotting most houseplants. As they begin their spring growth, they’re ready for some new soil and root pruning. I usually repot plants when the weather is crummy, so I start by spreading an old sheet over the kitchen counter. I take the pot, turn it upsidedown, and give it a sharp rap with the side of a closed fist to get it out of the pot. If that doesn’t work, I slide a cake knife between the pot and the plant’s root system. It also helps if the plant has been watered earlier that day so the soil is not bone dry.

Generally, I don’t want to move my plants into bigger pots, so I need to remove soil and cut back some roots to make room for fresh soil. I take an old kitchen fork or pocket knife to tease out the roots. I loosen and remove some soil all the way around – three quarters of an inch on the sides, and even more at the base. Then I cut back the roots with a sharp pair of scissors. I scrub out the pot and put an inch of small pebbles in the bottom for drainage. I add some new potting soil in the bottom, and place the plant in the pot. The soil line should be below the lip of the pot to prevent spills when watering.

Then, using my fingers or the handle of a wooden spoon, I pack soil between the root ball and the pot. When it’s all done, I give the plant a drink of water and place it where it’s out of direct sun for a day or two.

Most commercial potting soil sold has little nutritional value. Sometimes I mix it with compost to provide nutrients, but the easiest thing to do is water with a liquid fertilizer. I use a liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer that provides the full range of minerals.

It won’t be long before I’m out in the garden again, and in the meantime, my houseplants can help to keep me busy – and cheerful.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, from Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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