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House plant make-over: gaunt to chubby.

You can stop feeling guilty about that poor, neglected plant. There's hope for it. The fiddieleaf fig (Ficus lyrata) pictured at far left started in 1978 as a robust, four-leafed infant in a shallow 9-inch pot. Nine years later, its family had changed houses three times, but it was stuck in the same tiny pot. Its owner said, "Every time I looked at that poor thing, I swore to myself I'd do it tomorrow. I kept thinking, 'What if I still had my teen-age kids in a playpen?"'

But it took more than repotting to turn this gangly adolescent into a handsome adult. It took air-layering-a propagation technique that stimulates the plant to send out roots at some point along its trunk. And you get two plants out of one: when you cut off and plant the newly rooted top section, the lower section will take off anew.

The technique works well with most house plants. Those that respond best include dieffenbachias, dracaenas, all ficus, and philodendrons. And it's a project that intrigues children-as they watch the roots emerge, they learn something about how plants develop.

On September 3, 1987, this plant's owner began the process. By December 18, the roots had developed to the point that the newly rooted portion of stalk could be cut ftom the original plant. The following September, we photographed the big, leafy, multistemmed result (at bottom center).

You need few supplies: a sharp knife, powdered rooting hormone, sphagnum moss, clear plastic, twine, a new pot, and fresh potting mix.

The pictures above lead you through the steps. Making the plastic sleeve for the new rootball is a bit tricky The one pictured is a double thickness of dry-cleaner's garment bag. The plastic was cut into a rectangle, then gathered around the trunk (rolling the loose edges together makes a leakproof seam). The bottom of the bag was tied tightly around the trunk with twine. The wet sphagnum was put in around the trunk; then the plastic was pulled up, more water added, and the top was shut. (Two pairs of hands make this job easier.)

When you remove the old plant from its container, prune back the big old roots. After transplanting, let old and new plants settle into their new pot for a couple of months, then fertilize them with a balanced liquid food mixed at halfstrength. In six months, you can begin a regular full-strength feeding program.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1989
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