Q: My neighbor will be moving soon to join her daughter and can’t take her houseplants with her. I have taken several and most are in need, in my opinion, of repotting. You usually suggest this as an early spring “chore,” but some are quite sad. Will it be OK if I repot these gifts now? – L.H., Albuquerque.
A: Since you have recognized their needs, I’d go ahead and do that. It shouldn’t hurt them as long as you are thoughtful with the process. I mean by aiming to have everything you’ll need beforehand and be through with your movements.
Remember that these houseplants, or”gifts,” are already startled, going from your neighbor’s home to yours, so be gentle. Purchase the amount of potting soil you’ll need and keep it indoors for a while to warm up. Most garden centers and nurseries have transitioned for the change of seasons and are usually keeping their larger bags of potting soil outside, so it might be cold.
If you were a houseplant, there would be nothing worse than having your “feet” plunked into a container of cold potting soil. So have the soil days in advance.
Next, remember repotting can be a dirty process. Allow yourself plenty of room to work in. I’d lay down several layers of newspaper to help keep the work area easier to clean up. As soon as you have decanted a plant from its container, gently remove as much of the old soil as will give easily and then inspect the plant roots. If any are squishy or even dead, snip them off cleanly using a pair of sharp, clean scissors.
I’d recommend wiping the scissor blades off with toweling dipped into rubbing alcohol to help prevent any mold or disease spread after each snip. While you are root inspecting, take the time to look over the plants themselves. If you find dead or failing leaves, snip them away while you’re at it. Any hard-surfaced leaf plants would benefit from a wiping off using a dampened washcloth (no alcohol) as well.
Then I’d give the pots and saucers a good wash and rinse. If you find pebbles or potsherds in the bottom of the containers, they’d best be washed off also. If you don’t need sherds or pebbles, you can line the containers using paper coffee filters. They work great to keep the soil in the pot, don’t degrade quickly, if at all, and allow the much needed drainage with ease.
When repotting, aim to keep the plants at the same original soil depth. As you get each plant finished, I’d suggest you set the pot in the sink with the stopper in and slowly water the plant, allowing it to sit in that puddle for at least 20 minutes. Use warm water. Remember, you are aiming to not create any more stress.
You’ll want to offer bright light, just not any baking direct sunlight. As the plants get used to their new surroundings you’ll want to watch for signs of not getting enough light, too much light, needing more or less water and make the necessary adjustments.
What you’re doing is a good thing. Giving your neighbor peace at having found a home for her treasures and you by inviting more oxygen makers into your home.
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.