The winter is full of the unkindest months for gardening with containers and houseplants, much like an unfaithful lover. Days like today (in March as I write this) with its sunny, above-freezing temperatures promise and lure the unwary to garden shows but we all know there’s treachery in the wings.
Love those outdoor temperatures all you like, bask in them, but don’t get ahead of spring or Mother Nature will come back to haunt you with her infidelities. She’s a delight is our Mother, but she’s a fickle creature indeed.
Lemons and Limes And Pot Sizes
This week I learned how not to pot up my new lemon and lime plants. I was away for a few days and the lemon dried out because the soil is unsuitable for pot and house culture. The small six-inch pot it was growing in was simply too small for my dry house.
Today both small trees sit in 12-inch clay pots and are looking much happier. Well, the lime looks happy; the lemon still looks a bit defoliated (the leaves began dropping from some branches because of the dry soil.) With the even soil moisture, the larger pots promise, I have great hopes that both plants will eventually grow in fruit-bearing trees.
Bigger is better when it comes to flower pots.
They start small but grow… and grow… and grow.
I Might Have Made A Small Mistake…
When I say I learned how not to pot them up, I mean that my kitchen looks like the back end of a very unsuccessful potting shed experiment.
I used a soilless mix and rather than wet it in the bag, I packed it dry around the old soil ball and tried to wet it in the sink. This used to work quite nicely in the greenhouses but the soil was too dry and it powdered up and out around the kitchen.
When the water hit the soil, it floated on top of the water and ran out in the sink. As I write, there’s soilless mix in the sink, around the countersand floor and I suspect a fine dusting on just about every surface in the kitchen. The good news is that I really wanted to clean the kitchen anyway. Learn from my mistake; ensure your potting soil is slightly damp in the bag before you use it in the pot.
Damp soil is important because March is the time to repot just about all your overwintered plants. The days are getting longer and the plants are beginning to wake up from their winter dormancy. Potting them into larger containers now means that those stretching roots will have the ability to grow and produce a larger plant.
And, as we all know, larger plants produce more flowers.
The accepted garden wisdom is to move from a four-inch pot to a five or six. See note below!
Observant readers will note that I didn’t follow the accepted garden wisdom with the citrus plants. And frankly, I think that’s old out-of-date advice and I can see any reason for only moving one pot size up at a time. In the nursery, we’d put a small transplant into the proper size pot for retailing no matter whether it was a 4-inch pot or 12-inch pot. No problem was ever seen.
Prune Back Flowering Plants To Encourage New Growth
Plants such as fuchsia and geraniums can be pruned back in late winter. The long lanky growth of winter’s low sunlight should be pruned back hard.
I used to whack the stock geraniums back to short six or eight-inch stubs in January and allow them to regrow and resprout from their stalks.Those new tender shoots would root very quickly in the greenhouses.
Remember that the more new growth you have on an annual plant, the more flowers it will produce.
Feed Your Plants
I also started feeding my plants in earnest this week.
- While they had been getting half strength food monthly all winter, in March I moved to full strength and will be feeding them every two weeks.
- In April, I’ll increase that to weekly feedings.
If you haven’t been feeding your plants monthly this winter (shame on you!) then do start for a month of half strength and then gradually increase to full strength in April. The growth of the plants will be your reward.
Repot Your Houseplants Too
Even your normal houseplants will benefit from being repotted now. If they have grown well over the past year, reward them with a larger pot. The bay tree didn’t do all that well over the winter as it resented the lack of sunlight and missed its greenhouse setting so I’m not sure I’m going to repot it. It will probably make another year in its eight-inch pot.
But the new Trachelospermum ‘tricolor’ (Variegated Star Jasmine) with its pink and green variegated leaves has done well so it is going to get a larger pot. This award-winning plant is a sure-fire winner and should be available this spring at better garden centers. Its vine-like habit grows to five feet tall and has fragrant flowers to boot. Mine will live outside during the summer and will come back indoors during the winter as it is a bit too tender for my outdoor garden.
So, my potted plants look better and seem happier. And, by the time you read this, my kitchen should be all newly cleaned for spring as well.
Update: This post was written before we started going South for the winter. And now, sadly, we have no indoor plants to repot or grace our home.