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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Upgrade Your Pot (plant pot that is)

 My thumb is chartreuse. It's not as bad as say, hot pink, but it certainly has a bit to go before graduating to full-fledged green. Something about the Southeast liquid sunshine keeps me from really digging in the dirt and becoming the best gardener I can be. In the meantime, though, I have one mean collection of lovely indoor foliage to keep me company, which has brought quite a motley crew of flora and mismatched pot debauchery into my house. So this summer I foraged into creating a unified pot palette and discovered quite a few things to share about repotting, upgrading and getting a greener thumb.

Know When to Upgrade
As a non-expert in foliage, one of the best ways to learn more is to ask an expert. If you are purchasing a new plant, ask the green thumb selling it to you when the little guy will be ready for an upgrade in pot size. If this isn't possible, the next step is to check its roots. If a plant becomes pot-bound it will stop growing because the roots have nowhere to go, so turn the pot slightly on its side and gently pull the plant out. Are the roots coiled around the plant? Then it's time to upgrade.

What Kind of Pot Are You Into?
Size does matter in this scenario. Look for a pot that's about two inches wider or deeper than the old pot. Check this by inserting the plant with old pot into the new pot. Does it fit loosely but neatly? You're set. When shopping watch out for pots that are all looks and no substance. There are plenty of pretty little things in fancy shapes and colors that don't have a method of drainage. Definitely ditch these. If you purchase a new terra cotta pot, soak it in water a few hours before the big repotting so it doesn't rob moisture from the plant when it's transferred.
Prepping For the Big Moment
Make sure you have plenty of clean soil, water, and a container to mix in before you get going. In theory, potting soil from the store comes pre-sterilized to get rid of diseases and pests, but personal experience can testify this is not always the case. Make sure you buy your soil from a reputable place, or use the tried and true method of baking it first to get rid of nasties like gnats. An infestation of these little buggers will leave you wishing you had baked first for sure. Check out http://tipnut.com/sterilize-soil/ for a guide to getting this done.

The Big Switch
Are you ready? Turn the pot on its side and tap it gently to ease the plant out. It might need a little nudge, so slide a trowel or knife around the edge to loosen it from the sides. If the roots are coiled around the bottom gently pull them straight. Basically give the roots a little massage without ripping apart the rootball. (Yes, it's called a rootball.) Prune the roots to stimulate growth. Layer the bottom of the new pot with pre-watered soil. Place your plant in and fill around with soil. Make sure you cover all the roots with fresh soil and then give it a bit more water. Don't use fertilizer if you've trimmed the roots or they can be damaged. Now you're all set. The plant will be in a bit of shock so leave it out of the sun for a week or so (which should be easy in Southeast Alaska). After a month you can add fertilizer, then rearrange all your plants and pots to make a lovely little indoor garden while you admire your green thumb!

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