Wild ThingsÖ
Let's Look at Houseplants 
By Karen Vizzi
     Okay, itís time to get our hands dirty! Roll up those sleeves, spread some newspaper on the table and letís take a look at our houseplants.
     As a general rule, most plants benefit from being repotted in fresh soil every 2 to 3 years. However, there are some species such as the popular spider plant (chlorophytum) that may require annual replacement of the soil. The calendar is one way to keep track, but the best way to tell if a plant is 
ready is to lift the root ball right out of the pot and take a look. If you see a tangled root system that has begun to coil itself in the shape of the bottom of the container, then itís time to repot. However, understand that transplanting creates root disturbance (no matter how careful you are) and root disturbance will stress a plant. SoÖif it doesnít need repotting, donít do it! 
     The two most popular types of containers are clay and plastic. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Plastic is lightweight,available in many different colors and tends to hold moisture very well. This can be good or bad, depending on how heavy-handed you are with the watering can. I prefer clay pots. They are porous and drain well and I like the rustic look. But 
they are HEAVY! Either way, be sure to purchase pots that have multiple drainage holes, or you may end up with a nice batch of plant and soil soup.
     When repotting, you will want to move a plant into the next size container Ö no more than 1 or 2 inches (in diameter) larger than the old pot. Increasing the pot size any more than this may create a situation where the abundance of extra soil retains too much water and the plant may drown. Also, lowering plants tend to be more productive when slightly pot-bound, so increasing the size of a pot too much can also delay a flowering cycle. One more cautionÖavoid transplanting ANY plant (inside or out) while itis actively flowering. A lot of energy goes into making those blooms, and there may not 
be enough left over to help heal the disturbed root system. 
     One you have identified your ďpatients,Ē gather your supplies and work in an area that you donít mind getting dirty, as this can be a very messy job. Remove the plant from its old pot and take a look at the roots. Shake off some of the old soil and trim away any dead or diseased roots that you see. Put a layer of fresh potting soil at the bottom of the new pot and gently transfer the plant, leaving the soil line an inch or so below the rim. Check the position of the plant, making sure itís centered and standing upright. Then fill in the sides with more fresh potting soil until it is level with the old soil line. Never change the old soil line by adding more soil to the top. Changing the depth of the crown (where the leaves or tems emerge from the soil) can be harmful to the plant. In other words, all your fresh soil should be at the bottom and sides where the roots are, not at the top. The next step is to water well. Donít skip this step, even if the soil feels damp.Watering will settle the soil and eliminate air pockets around the 
roots, which can also harm a plant. I take the extra step of pressing down on the soil after watering, to make sure the plant is completely settled and packed tightly in its new soil. 
     Once a plant has grown to the point of being unmanageable, there is another technique you can use called top-dressing. This involves removing the top 1 to 2 inches of old soil and replacing it with fresh. Once again, never change 
the original soil line by adding more dirt than was originally there. It is also a good idea to prune large plants when you are top-dressing. Pruning keeps growth in check so the plant does not become larger than the constrained root system can support.
     Finally, donít be tempted to fertilize a newly repotted plant. Most soil mixes contain enough nutrients to feed your plants for several months. 
    Bird Brainers: This year, think about adding a nesting box or platform to your wild garden. Offering birds a safe place to raise their young enhances the habitat you are trying to create. For ideas, check out www.AudubonWorkshop.com
    Butterfly Bullets: Some butterflies employ mimicry as a defense against predators. They have evolved to resemble a different, but poisonous species and birds learn to avoid them as snacks. The monarch butterfly is highly toxic to birds because of all the milkweed it eats as a caterpillar. The 
viceroy (a monarch look-alike) is not toxic Ö but birds avoid it anyway based on its similar appearance. 
    Plant Pointers: Itís still a little early for major pruning of shrubs, but you can clip off a few branches of forsythia or pussy willow and bring them inside. Crush the bottom of the stem (where it was cut) with a few light taps of a hammer and place in a vase or jug of water. In a week or so, these 
branches will begin to bloom inside. This process is called forcing.

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