Q: You recommend waiting until late February to repot houseplants, why? – N.N., Albuquerque
A: Simple, light. As our earth starts its annual tilt back after the Winter Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is granted more light. This time of year, most plants are still dormant.
Houseplants aren’t getting as much natural light now, so let them rest for the time being. By late February you and them will recognize the lengthening of the daylight hours and they will want to wake up.
You can and want to, go ahead and repot now, but I wouldn’t expect much in the way of growth until the light is truly back. To me, waiting until late February was a time of getting ready for the coming year.
Meanwhile, I do take the time to wash off leaf surfaces using a soft, dampened cloth. Keeping the leaf surfaces wiped off is good for two reasons.
First, it’s a good way to check for any pests. I know I’ve discovered small infestations of fungus gnats by bumping the pots and working my plants. A couple of waterings of soapy water nips them in the bud.
Second, giving the leaf surfaces a good wipe off so they’ll be able to breathe better. It’s true. A plant with dusty leaves is usually an unhealthy, or at least headed that way, plant.
So for the time being, I suggest you continue to be patient, wait for more light, tidy up the plants and look forward to getting your hands dirty in late February.
Q: I’m at a loss. Three years ago I planted some poppies in my yard and they grew wonderfully. Last spring and the one before, I had poppies pop up in other parts of the yard and some even showed up in my neighbor’s garden. What’s going on? – D.U., Albuquerque
A: What has happened in your garden is nature at her best.
Since the “originals” grew so wonderfully for you, inevitably they came to fruition and set seed. Poppy seed is extremely small and ridiculously light, so when the flower heads that were finished blooming cracked open and were buffeted by the wind, the seed was cast away by those winds. The term wind sown applies here. All those tiny seeds got sent on their way, eventually landed and in turn found a place to hunker down.
As the prevailing winds continued, there was probably just enough sand/dirt blown on top of the seed to hold it in place, offering it a comfy place to wait until the following growing season and then voila, the next generation of poppies has begun.
Q: I have lots of leaves from my neighbor’s desert willow piled up in a couple of places in my yard. I know you suggested allowing them to stay put since the birds like to root around in them finding things to nibble on, but can I go ahead and start to tidy up those piles now? – W.C.,Belen
A: That’ll be up to you. My thinking is that since it’s only mid-January I’d let “sleeping dogs lie” for a while yet.
If you’re like me, you get a kick out of watching the birds scrabble around searching for whatever they find, knowing that if they find a morsel, that’s one less bug aiming to attack my landscaping. It’ll be no harm done if you tidy up the leftovers now, but that’s up to you and if you truly mind them being there for a while longer.
Happy Diggin’ In.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.