Houseplants need some spiffing up?

The HeraldFebruary 24, 2009 

How long has it been since you've had a serious talk with your houseplants? I'm often guilty of neglecting to do so until company is coming or we're having folks over for dinner or a plant just up and kicks the bucket.

Spiffing up houseplants can be as simple as giving 'em a shower to get rid of an accumulation of dust, cat hair and such. Put smaller plants in the kitchen sink, one at a time, and spray gently using lukewarm water. While you're at it, also do your best to spray the undersides of the leaves. This helps wash away any insects that are up to no good. Washes your floors, too, but that's another story.

(By the way, some plants -- particularly those with fuzzy foliage such as the African violet -- don't like to be bathed, so be forewarned.)

When you've finished spraying, cut off any dead or yellowing leaves and give the plant a careful pruning, if necessary. Sometimes removing one stray branch can turn a frumpy ficus into a beauty queen and getting rid of that wayward leaf can make a peace lily sing.

Matilda, my split-leaf philodendron, had a limb that stuck out like a third elbow. Removing that awkward looking appendage gave her living room privileges.

Examine the surface of the soil. See that depression in the dirt and those bare roots over there? Top the pot off with a mixture of compost, fresh potting soil and a little time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote. Your plants will thank you for months to come.

If roots are poking out the hole in the bottom of the pot, it's probably time to re-pot the plant, using a container about an inch larger in diameter. (But I'd pick my time and go for a warm, sunny day on the deck, where a little spilled dirt won't be a big deal!)

Now's also the time to:

• Finish pruning shrubs and trees. Which reminds me to remove more lower limbs on our river birches that have grown from short, ugly sticks to graceful trees that shade one end of the house in nine years, give or take a few months. Gotta love those things.

• Feed azaleas and other established shrubs and trees with slow-release fertilizer.

• Put out broccoli and cabbage transplants and onion sets. Sow carrots, lettuce, mustard, radishes, spinach, beets and turnips. Irish potatoes can be planted after mid-March.

• Spray broadleaf weed killer to evict assorted weeds, wild onions and wild garlic from your lawn.

• Remove all the dead foliage and brown stalks around daylilies, iris and other perennials and toss the debris in the compost pile. (This can take hours, as any gardener knows. Son made the job a lot easier several years ago with a sturdy plastic gardening bench. Flip it over, and there's a real comfy kneeling pad with legs that work like crutches to give you a lift when you need it. Saves the back and the feet too.

• Clean and fertilize pansy beds. While you're at it, remove dead blossoms and add compost around any exposed roots.

• Did I mention weeding? Now, while the ground is soft and damp, is the perfect time to yank out the little intruders before they grow up and have babies.

• Spray broadleaf weed killer on your lawn to get rid of the pests, wild onions and wild garlic, too.

• Clean and refill fountains or other water features. Also, give those bird baths a good scrubbing and add fresh water.

• Speaking of birds, make sure all the old nests are removed from your boxes and that they're clean and in good repair.

• Cut back liriope, pampas and other ornamental grasses. (Now, that's a biggie -- worth an extra day of golf.)

• Divide and replant perennials such as cannas, hostas, Shasta daisies, lilies and iris.

• Find a nice way to tell squirrels and geese they'll have to wear shirts and shoes to dine in our cafeteria.

Jane Clute writes about gardening for The Herald. E-mail her at theclutes@comporium.net or write her c/o The Herald, POB 11707, Rock Hill, SC, 29731.

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