Pot shot – Looking after indoor plants

As spring draws us outdoors, it’s easy to forget indoor plants. Some will only need extra watering at this time of year while others may need a new pot or change of potting mix.

It’s time to repot when you see roots emerging from the base of the pot, or if the plant seems eternally thirsty or is leaning over. Even without these symptoms, a change of potting mix can do wonders for a jaded house plant. Worn-out potting mix lacks useful nutrients and can contain residue of less-than-useful chemicals.

The new pot should be ideally no more than 3 cm larger in diameter than the old one. Water the plant thoroughly a few hours before repotting, then remove it from its old pot by inverting and gently tapping. Carefully tease out matted roots and use a sharp knife or secateurs to remove any that look unhealthy.

Scrape or shake off as much of the old potting mix as possible and check the roots for small, fluffy white insects. These are mealy bugs and can be dealt to by soaking the roots in a dilute solution of oaldison before repotting.

Start with a layer of fresh potting mix and place the plant so the top of its ball is 1cm to 2cm below the pot’s rim. Fill in the sides, gently firming and tapping the pot on the bench as you go. After repotting, water thoroughly and place the plant in a cool sheltered place for a week or two while it recovers from its ordeal.

We like our rooms to be warm and dry but plants usually prefer more moisture. Generally, the warmer the room, the more humid they like it. You can increase the humidity around a plant by mist spraying it with water.

Alternatively, stand it in a tray of pebbles with water. the pebbles serve to hold the base of the pot above water level.

Dust is a common but often forgotten hazard. Like us, plants need to breathe in order to survive. Remove dust clogging their pores by gently sponging the leaf surfaces with water. Special leaf shines are another solution and some give protection against pests and diseases.

Plants in active growth (usually during spring and summer) should be fed once a fortnight with liquid fertiliser such as Phostrogen for flowering plants and a nitrogen fertiliser for ferns.

oost potting mixes contain a few months’ supply of slow-release fertiliser, which becomes available to plants as you water. If you tend to be lax with feeding it’s a good idea to apply a spring dose of osmacote (or similar) provided of course you’re not so lax with watering!

Too much water can be as harmful as too little. However, now is the time to start watering more often, as plants move into an active growth cycle. If the soil is dry to touch on the top of the pot, it’s generally a signal to water.

Exactly how often to water depends on the type of plant but in any case, the potting mix should generally be kept as damp as a squeezed out sponge.

Bathrooms are often on the cold side of the house with fluctuating temperatures and humidity. Film from deodorant and hairspray aerosols mean that leaves should be wiped regularly. This means plants with furry leaves such as African Violets aren’t the best choice. Ferns often do well in bathrooms.

Kitchens are bright and often steamy so plants tend to grow well here. Begonias can be a good choice.

Related stories

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.