By Josh Douglas from Green House Co
Different plant groups have different care requirements; Ferns need shade and humidity, Cacti need bright light, you’ve got plants you get it! But one thing most of your houseplants will have in common (there are a few exceptions) is that they will be warm season growers. So come spring as the days get longer and temperatures (especially at night) begin to increase your plants will be starting to put on new growth. This is the perfect time to do that maintenance you’ve been putting off so you can help your plants make the most of the warmer months.
A good potting media should provide the right balance of air, water and nutrients to the plants roots. Over time the organic component of potting mixes break down leading to a change in their structure as well as the depletion of nutrient ions available and often the build up of salts on soil particles. Repotting with fresh media improves the structure of the media, provides nutrients, improves pH and reduces toxins…your plants will love it!
Depending on the plant and to a lesser degree the potting media, some of which break down more slowly than others, most plants will benefit from a repot every 2-3 years. Some plants such as orchids will benefit from a repot every year. Check out our care guides for more info. When potting up it’s best not to go more than one or two pot sizes larger, especially with those plants that you have to be careful not to overwater.
We all know plants require nutrients for growth and development, most of these nutrient elements they get from the growing media. Now that it’s spring and plants are actively growing they require more nutrients for root development, to build strong cell walls, to make proteins to photosynthesize blah blah blah! To ensure there are enough nutrients available to plants during active growth we add fertilizer.
For most plants a well-balanced fertilizer is perfect (roughly equal N:P:K) for promoting vigorous growth. If your lazy like us there is nothing wrong with using a good quality slow release fertilizer (at the recommended rate).
For plants that are grown in a really open bark media such as Orchids and Anthuriums dusting with a bit of Dolomite lime a couple of times a year will help to sweeten the media (raise the pH) and provide a source of Calcium which is not often present in slow release fertilizers.
As your plants begin to enter a period of sustained growth (i.e. the growing season) now is a great time to give them a prune. Start by cutting away any dead or dying leaves and stems that have succumbed to winter’s wrath.
If your plant is getting a bit unruly you can cut back any outlying stems or branches to tidy up its habit (shape). Pruning back stems has the added benefit of encouraging the plant to activate auxiliary buds along the remaining portion of the stem that was cut which will result in a much bushier looking plant. Hoyas, Philodendrons (and other vining Aroids) and Aeshynanthus all benefit greatly from a spring prune. Even your Mistletoe Fig will thank you!
If you’re so inclined you could even have a go at propagating your plants using the stem sections you pruned back. Most indoor plants will root easily along the stem so just chuck them in a mixture of coarse peat, coarse sand and perlite 1:1:1, keep them moist and humid and enjoy your new plants.
There is actually a fair bit of evidence, mostly in food crops, to suggest that the accumulation of dust and dirt on plant leaves significantly impacts their growth and development. This was mostly attributed to a reduction in photosynthesis caused by the blocking of infra red light into the plants photosynthetic tissue, a reduction in gas exchange in the leaf (also important for photosynthesis) as well as higher leaf temperatures. In one study in rice the reduction in growth and development was as much as 28%.
Although it’s hard to say whether plants in your home would accumulate the same levels of dust that led to the reduction in growth and development reported in rice it’s probably safe to say that whipping out the old cloth and giving your plants a clean could have a significant benefit to their health and at the very least it is likely to have some benefit.
Dust mostly accumulates on the upper leaf surface so give the upper surface a wipe with a clean, damp cloth or bit of paper towel whilst using your other hand to gently support the underside of the leaf. Or just take them outside and gently hose them off or put them in a tepid shower.
So you’ve repotted, cleaned and fertilized the gang and they’re rewarding you by pushing out a heap of new growth! Time to give them a spray to make sure all this new growth is protected. You should be checking for nasty little pesties anyway as part of your regular maintenance routine but it’s especially important to be doing this in spring. This is because all this new growth is soft and supple because the rapidly dividing and elongating cells haven’t had time to develop rigid cell walls plus these cells are full of sugars and nutrients to support this new growth making it a particularly attractive meal to pests like aphids. It’s like eating canned Tuna all winter and then BAM all of a sudden there’s lobster meat everywhere!
Mealy bug, Scale and Aphids are all pests that love that sweet sweet new growth (mmm lobster) and can become a problem in spring. To ensure these pests are kept away from your plants sexy new shoots regular spraying (like once a week) with eco-oil to the top and bottom of the leaf as well at the shoots and leaf axils will ensue these pests are kept at bay. This product will also sort out any residual mite infestation you were too lazy to get on top of over winter. If you have noticed Caterpillars on your plants in the past you can mix some Dipel into your eco-oil mix to kill any that might try and have a nibble! Just make sure you read the label of these products before using to make sure they are suitable for your situation.
You’ve probably done a bit of fiddling around with your plants over winter, you might have moved some into positions where they get brighter light or moved others away from a cold draught. Well it’s spring now, the days are getting longer, the sun’s position in the sky is getting higher and its rays are getting harsher. So, time to move them around again! Make sure all your sun sensitive plants are far enough away from a window that they are receiving no more than bright indirect light. You might want to move some of your more epiphytic aroids into positions where they get a bit more airflow to mimic that jungle canopy.
Turn them around too to help straighten out plants that have been seeking the light over winter. Now that the nighttime temperatures are increasing you can even move some outside to provide them with more light and make your balcony a nicer place to be.
Better get cracking, you’ve got a lot to do!!
This post was first published on the blog of Green House Co: a sustainable Sydney based company which delivers high quality plants and hand-crafted pots straight to Australian doorsteps. For plant-based treats for yourself and your loved ones, visit greenhouseco.com.au . Photography provided by Deanna Gerlach (@dgerl)
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