Division easy way to save growing houseplants

It’s division time for houseplants. They eventually outgrow their pots and we never realize why they are declining. Do your houseplants show any of these symptoms?

■ Plant wilts after waterings and there is not enough soil to store water.

■ Plants experience stunted growth.

■ Lower leaves turn yellow and die.

■ Roots protrude from drainage holes.

■ Pots break because of crowding roots.

These plants need to go into larger containers. Eventually, bigger potted plants may outgrow your home.

Dividing houseplants is an easy and quick way to propagate plants — and it’s fun. Dividing yields more divisions (new plants) and you still keep the same characteristics as their parents.

Houseplants such as snake plant, Boston fern, cast-iron plant, African violet, philodendron, asparagus fern and Spathiphyllum are all easy to divide. The reason is they produce clusters of stems at their base. Divide these anytime, but right now is ideal because they are nearing the end of their winter rest and will soon begin active growth. (You can’t divide single-stemmed plants.) Here is how to divide your plants:

Select your pots: You have two types: clay and plastic. Clay pots need to be soaked for several hours to fill the porous walls or they rob moisture from the soil and may cause potential damage to your houseplants. If you’ve used the pots before, give them a thorough scrubbing and rinsing with a mixture of one part bleach or vinegar to nine parts water.

Plastic pots do conserve water and they are light, making them easy to handle, but they need drainage holes. If they don’t have any, make a hole. If water collects in a pot, the soil sours and may kill the plants.

Place a piece of screen over drainage holes to prevent the soil from eroding. To avoid staining furniture, place a planter saucer under the pots to catch any drippings.

Select your potting soil: Garden centers sell several mixes. They are light, drain easily and come with all essential nutrients blended in to start your divisions off right.

Hold the water: Before dividing plants, harden them by withholding water for several days.

Get rid of hitchhikers: Inspect the plants, especially near their base. Crowded conditions make nice homes for spider mites and scales. Roust them out with a small, soft sponge but be gentle with the tender leaves. Follow with an application of insecticidal soap to get those pests still in hiding.

Taking plants out of pots: Now for the fun part. Spread newspaper on your working surface so it’s easier to clean up when you’re through. Remove the plant by gently tapping the pot edges against a hard surface to free the soil from the container walls. If the plant doesn’t slide out or if the pot’s too large to turn over, lay it on its side and slide a knife around the inside of the pot to free the roots. Avoid tugging on stems or foliage to prevent damaging plants.

Now make the cut: For the first timer, this will take courage. Examine the plants for places that seem natural to divide. If possible, pull or tease roots apart with your fingers. Retain a good chunk of roots and clump of leaves. If the roots form a dense mass — often the case with overgrown plants — make clean, decisive cuts with a knife through the root ball. Work quickly to avoid exposing the roots any longer than necessary.

Replant new division: Put a shallow layer of potting soil in each container. Position each division so its soil level next to the stem is the same as it was in the original container. Gently filter soil around divisions, at the same time tapping the pots to settle the soil to eliminate any air pockets. Leave about an inch between the top of the soil mix and the pot’s rim to allow space for watering.

What to do after planting: Water thoroughly. Add more soil mix if watering causes too much settling. Do not water again until the soil surface feels dry. This encourages roots to reach out into their new surroundings, and they need the air spaces to do it so they can expand.

Let plants recover in an airy but shaded location for a couple of weeks before moving them into brighter locations.

When the plants begin sending out new growth, resume fertilizing. Osmocote is a very good houseplant fertilizer. It’s in pellets coated with a plastic polymer that slowly breaks down to release nutrients to your plants so you don’t feed as often.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@ springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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