February's Assignment

Years ago special clear and colored vases were in common use to force hyacinths into bloom in the home in the winter time. They are now offered at several local nurseries and in garden catalogs. You don't have to have the vases designated for hyacinths but they are really quite nice (and you owe yourself a treat, right?) All you really need is a vase with a narrow neck collar. This holds the hyacinth bulb over water (and also keeps it from falling in!). If you have not kept the hyacinths in a cool dark place for the last 3 months there are usually prepared bulbs and vases for sale. Simply place the hyacinth in the vase so the bottom of the bulb barely touches the water. Place the bulbs in a cool dark place. Check periodically to make sure that the water level doesn't drop too low. Check for well developed roots. They will fill the container to the bottom. The flowers will be just peaking through the leaf sheaths. Move the hyacinths into indirect light so they can green up, then into bright light. Soon you will be able to enjoy the flowers and the incredible scent. Enjoy them. Let the leaves die down naturally. Plant the hyacinths into your garden. With luck they will rebloom there next spring.

I did promise to discuss your house plants this month. They have probably been growing slowly if at all but this does not mean you should neglect them. Soon you will be busy with spring gardening tasks so give them some attention now. Examine each of your potted plants. I like to remind people that growing a plant in a pot “ain't natural” so we have to give our plants some assistance! Look at the general health of the plant: leaf color, plant structure, soil level and condition, roots, presence of insects or arachnids, presence of disease. Hold the pot up if it is not too big or simply tip the pot on its side. Are roots coming out of the bottom holes? If the plant is very large and healthy you could simply top dress it with fresh potting soil.

Are roots being forced upward in the pot? Think of this as a sign of your success with plants. They grew! Remember though that some plants do like to be root bound (clivia, for example). Many people repot plants when they begin to actively grow again later in the spring but I never find the time then. I do it earlier and my houseplants are thriving.

OK, you have determined that the plant in question needs to be repotted. The first thing you must do is to get the plant out of the pot. You can use one hand to turn the pot up side down while holding the plant in place. Some plants will simply fall out of the pot. Others will have roots that have attached themselves to the pot walls. If you feel that any tugging on the plant will damage the plant, then DON'T do it. You may wish to thoroughly water the soil and then try. Sometimes you may wish to slip a flat kitchen utensil down the sides of the pot. to loosen the soil. Sometimes the pot breaks. If it's a clay pot save the broken pieces to use in the bottom of your other pots.

If the plant is pot bound you will know it! Don't put off repotting too long because the plant will eventually deteriorate. The new pot should be about two inches wider across the diameter of the root ball. You may be thinking “That's not much bigger. Why not put the plant into a much bigger pot?” The soil that is not in root contact will not develop the soil structure necessary for healthy plants. It can become water laden and sour smelling. This can permeate the healthy soil thus giving you a sick plant....not nice!

Carefully spread out the roots. Recrock the new pot. Add the appropriate slightly moistened medium for the type of plant. Repot the plant to the same level as it was before keeping the top of the soil about a half to one inch below the top of the new pot. Let rest a day for settling to occur. Gently water.

If you don't want your plant to get any bigger you may be able to prune back the top and prune the roots as well. Repot back into the same pot using fresh growing medium. You may also be able to divide the original plant but that is another topic for another column.

Forever Young Magazine February 2006