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Give plants the once-over.

Byline: Paul Rogers

COLUMN: ROOTS OF WISDOM

Now is the time to consider your houseplants. Before night temperatures drop below 50 degrees, houseplants, especially those that have summered outdoors, need your careful culture. Inspection, repotting, debugging and shaping should be your focus during the next two weeks.

Is it too early in the season to worry about your plants? Not at all, as temperatures fall, houseplants require attention.

Many if not most houseplants are tropical in origin. As such they are more cold tender than you may realize. In addition, their transition from outside, where they have enjoyed free air movement and evening dews and damps, to indoors is helped by the current open windows in our homes. Under the best of conditions, our homes provide a hot and dry environment.

Set up a comfortable work site and carefully inspect each plant. Look at the tip growth and the underside of leaves. This is where you will discover most insects. Remove them by pinching off growth.

Is the plant centered in the pot? Is its development symmetrical and balanced? Slide the plant out of the pot. Are there indications (tunnels or cavities) that ants, worms or beetles have taken up residence in the soil ball?

Be prepared to remove about one-third of the soil, especially from the sides and base of the soil ball. Use a clean container of adequate size - the same one or one size larger depending on the growth the plant has made - and only fresh, lightly moistened professional potting soil. Pro-Mix, Fafard Mix, Metro-Mix or similar are strongly suggested. However fine your garden soil may well be, it is too dense and contaminated with weed seeds, insect eggs and fungi to properly support a houseplant. The number one cause of houseplant death is poor soil. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to use any potting mix other than the best. Note that even if your potted plant does not need a larger container, it still should be repotted, as described, as the soil mix needs to be renewed twice a year. Developing roots have plugged drainage pores in the soil, accumulated damaging fertilizer salts (those chemical elements that the plant rejected), and seriously interfered with a free flow of oxygen into the soil.

With the plant centered in the pot and the new growing media at a height that allows for watering (depth depends on container size), the plant should be studied for symmetry. Prune back any overly long shoots to balance the appearance of the plant.

Remove any damaged or discolored leaves and provide sufficient water so that some drains out the bottom.

Place the plant out of the wind or bright sun for several days, then return it to its winter location.

Repeat the procedure for each of your houseplants with the realization that you have given each a new lease on life.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 28, 2011
Words:478
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