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Houseplants are often neglected in summer

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. My peonies did not bloom this spring at all, and not much last year. Any ideas?

    These valuable plants could be affected by crowding or too much shade. It is possible that trees or shrubs nearby have blocked enough sunshine to prevent flowering. It wasn’t drought this year, because we had plenty of rainfall this spring. Plants that have been in the ground a long time, eight or 10 years, may simply be crowded and would benefit from digging and dividing in late summer. Once you do this, be sure to replant so that the top of the peony roots sits even with the ground level. This is essential in the Piedmont to ensure maximum exposure to cold weather that will encourage buds and bloom.

While your back was turned to tend flower and vegetable beds, some houseplants have taken it upon themselves to grow. For many vigorous ones such as philodendron, tropical ferns, grape ivy, peperomia, pothos and peace lily, the change is remarkable. In some cases, this calls for moving the plant to a larger pot where the expanding root ball can grow and encourage even more top growth.

Two signs that a houseplant is ready for – and in fact needs – repotting are rapid wilting of the foliage or roots creeping out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. The new home for this plant should be a pot at least one inch in diameter larger than the present one. If the plant is already in a large pot of 10 inches or so, increase the pot size by at least 2 inches.

Besides a larger pot, get fresh potting soil. Some include granules or fertilizer and that is good.

This is not a tedious business and can be rather fun if you reduce the possibility of mess by putting down a plastic sheet or layer of newspapers to catch soil that will no doubt spill. Getting a root-bound pot out of its present container is not difficult but requires care to avoid breakage of valuable stems and leaves. Just turn the pot over and shake it gently to move the root ball out of the pot. But if it doesn’t slide out, use a knife or trowel between the soil and the side of the pot to loosen. You may be surprised to see that the root ball appears firmly wrapped in roots encircling it. This is a good sign that the plant really requires repotting.

To ensure that the plant gets growing in its new home, give some attention to these wound-up roots by gently teasing them away from the root ball with your fingers or, if necessary, a trowel or knife. It is OK to shake off some of the old soil to allow the new and fresher soil to take its place.

Once you have done this, prepare the new pot by covering the drainage holes with bits of broken terra cotta pot or a layer of gravel. This will reduce the amount of soil washing out of the pot and ensure good soil drainage. Layer soil in the bottom of the pot high enough so that the top of the root ball is an inch or so below the rim of the pot. This will keep water from flowing over the side when you use the watering can.

Once the height is settled, set the plant firmly into position and fill in the sides with new soil. Do this carefully, shaking the pot as you go to make sure it settles well and leaves no empty pockets. As a final check, use a watering can to put water on the pot, especially around the edge to further settle the soil and add more as needed.

Though they may have been indoors for a long time, most of these common houseplants will benefit from the warm, humid air outdoors, provided they are shaded from the hottest of summer afternoon sun and heat. A covered porch or a dense canopy of trees can be an inviting spot to spend the summer.

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