Finally, a chill in the air turns our thoughts to houseplants. Some of yours may have spent many months outdoors in warm, humid air, but now they will require a place indoors. Late October is normally the time to make this move because the night temperatures tend to be below 50 degrees.
Spending the summer outside tends to encourage robust growth, especially where plants get the right amount of sun or shade and regular water. Some may seem to have outgrown the pot and would benefit from having roomier quarters.
Before you bring the pots indoors, it is important to look them over carefully. This means raising leaves and checking stems to see if insects are present. Should you find evidence of insects, get rid of them. Insecticides formulated for houseplants are one way.
Sometimes soft-bodied insects can be washed off with a strong stream of water. Where numbers are few, they can be lifted off with the tip of a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
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Soil may also harbor insects, so look at it carefully and check the bottom of the pot to make sure no insects or slugs are hiding in the drainage holes. Slugs are easy to remove with the tip of a trowel.
Roots growing out of the bottom of the pot indicate it is time for repotting into a container that is 1 to 2 inches bigger in diameter. Another signal is a tendency for the plant to wilt rapidly because roots have filled the pot and there is less room for soil to hold water until the roots need it. Tropical ferns may even show growth emerging around the perimeter of the pot and spilling over the rim.
Repotting is not difficult and can be done outdoors or inside. A larger container, fresh potting soil and a trowel are all you need. It helps to put down newspaper where you are working to catch any spills of soil.
Turn the pot onto its side and gently remove the plant by tugging at the base near the soil line. You may have to help a bit – sink a trowel around the container’s perimeter between the pot and soil to loosen it and to allow the plant to emerge smoothly from tight quarters.
Once it is out of the pot, shake the plant gently to get rid of loose soil. Look over the root ball, where you may see roots wrapped tightly around it. Use your trowel to loosen them so they will grow into the fresh soil in the bigger pot.
Place broken pieces of a clay pot over the drainage hole, then put a layer of fresh soil over them, high enough so that the top of the root ball will be about 1 inch below the rim. Set the root ball into the pot, then fill in the sides, shaking the pot as you go to settle the soil. Once filled, water the pot gently, then check again to make sure the pot is filled with soil.