It's time to give those houseplants more than just a drink of water.
The days are getting longer and that generally signals our houseplants that it's time to perk up. If your plants are like mine, they probably haven't had much attention since we brought them inside last fall other than a weekly watering if needed and maybe a bit of leaf-plucking. After spending several months in a state of rest, they are probably looking a bit sad.
Inspecting houseplants for insect pests is something we should be doing once a week year-round and definitely should be part of their spring wake-up. The most common pests that feed on indoor plants are aphids, scale, mealy bugs, spider mites and whiteflies. Winter can be stressful on plants, especially when they are forced to live in less than ideal conditions such as low light and cooler temperatures from being cooped up indoors.
Pay particular attention to the undersides of leaves. Going a step further and looking closely with a magnifying glass can help spot immature insects. The earlier the pests are found and the plant is treated, the best chance of its survival.
There are two ways to battle insect pests on plants, chemical and non-chemical. Non-chemical methods includes hand-picking the pests if possible, cleaning the leaves with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol, spraying with an organic insecticidal soap and trimming off infected leaves and branches. In some cases, and if only a few pests are found, a brisk shower with a spray-nozzle in a sink or bathtub will do the trick.
If an infestation indicates a chemical is required, be sure to first identify the pest. If you can't figure it out yourself, trim off an infected leaf or stem, put it in a plastic bag and take it to The Ohio State Extension Master Gardeners at their offices in Cortland. They can also recommend a treatment option. Try to buy only enough chemical product for your immediate use and be sure to read the label. Buy only the chemical suggested for your pest problem. Not every product will work on every pest. Always use according to the manufacturers directions.
Once the pest problem is under control, check the plant to see if it needs to be repotted. If the plant is in a plastic container, the pot could begin to look misshapen due to the plant's roots pushing from the inside. You also can try holding onto the base of the plant and give a slight tug. If the entire plant comes out of the pot with roots and all, the plant is potbound. If the roots are beginning to show above the soil line, there probably are more roots than soil in the container. The exception would be plants that have aerial roots such as orchids, which are supposed to grow outside of the container.
Gardening advice suggests that when repotting, we should choose a container that is only one-inch in diameter larger than the plant's existing pot. I have found going up a couple inches in size isn't harmful, especially if the plant has become extremely pot bound with little or no soil left.
Succulents have very shallow roots and I prefer to squeeze as many different varieties into one container as I can to create an entire garden in a dish. Other plants, such as Sanseveria, which has the unfortunate common name of "mother-in-law's tongue," prefer to be pot bound. Do your homework and find out what conditions your plant prefers and repot - or not - accordingly. Plants that have suckers or additional crowns, such as African Violets, can be divided into separate containers.
Finally, give the newly tidied up and repotted plants a long drink of water. We put our houseplants in the sink (bathtub, in the case of larger plants), and give them a thorough drink, letting the water soak all the way through the soil. Afterward, we let them sit in the sink for about an hour to let excess water drain before we place them back in their saucers.
We don't begin fertilizing until they've had time to get adjusted to their new containers. After a couple weeks, water them with a diluted, water soluble fertilizer. Once we move the plants outside for the summer, we start to feed them full strength according to the directions on the package.
Before moving the plants outside, acclimate them slowly to their summer location by putting them out for a few hours each day and increasing that time over a couple weeks.