By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Now that Christmas is over, the days will start getting longer. Your houseplants are singing hallelujah. They will start to produce more carbohydrates now for new growth. That makes it a perfect excuse for the avid gardener to get their hands in dirt.

If the plant hasn’t been repotted for several years, it’s probably time to repot. If when you water, the water just runs right through the soil, it is definitely time to repot. If your sansevieria, also called mother in law’s tongue, has broken through its pot—well, you get the idea.

Start with a clean pot that is just a size or 2 larger than the original. Nothing looks sillier than a small plant marooned in the middle of a too large pot. And too large a pot for the plant holds too much water, possibly rotting the plant’s roots.  If the old pot has a mineral growth in the edge, you may have to think about what is in the water you are feeding your baby. If you are planning to reuse a pot with a crusty edge, soak it in vinegar. This should loosen the goop so you can scrape it off. Another thing to try is milk stone remover, a chemical used in bulk milk tanks to remove calcium build up. This stuff works great for the layer of green on the bottom of bird baths too. Just rinse well. You can find it in the men’s toy store in Fergus.

Before you start to repot, clean your plants. Fill the kitchen sink with warm water with just a drop of liquid dish soap in it. Hold your hand over the soil and tip the plant over and swish it through the water. If she is too big to do that, set her in the bathtub and spray her off.  Too big to move? Use a soft cloth to wash each leaf. Do both sides of the leaf.  Fuzzy plants like African violets don’t like wet leaves. Pull a leaf from one and use it to “dust” the other leaves. Never use leaf shine products, milk or mayo on leaves. It leaves a surface that attracts dust.  This artificial layer also interferes with the plant’s photosynthesis.

Give your baby fresh potting soil. The used stuff goes in the garden or the mulch. If the plant is root bound, make several vertical slices through them, just as you do when planting a pot-bound tree or plant in the spring. If she is looking a bit scraggly, do some trimming. Use the trimmings to start new plants.

Don’t fertilize for the next 6 weeks then add a pinch each time you water or, if you have a good memory, ½ strength once a month. Don’t over water. This kills more house plants than anything else. Succulents should dry out between waterings. Too wet and they rot. Never fertilize a bone-dry plant. Water it one day and fertilize the next to prevent burning the roots.

Now, about water. Never use softened water. It has chemical salts in it that will eventually build up and damage the roots. City water has added chlorine and fluorine.  They don’t usually mind the chlorine, but the fluorine will lead to brown tips on some sensitive plants like spider plants and dracaenas. Most of our house plants are from the tropics or semi tropics where rain is relatively warm. Use room temp water and never water an orchid with ice cubes no matter what the label says. Melted, clean snow or rainwater works really well to water plants.

A house full of healthy house plants helps keep the air clean and gardeners happy.