In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
August, 2006
Regional Report

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Ten-year-old jade plants turn a simple doorway into an elegant entrance.

Tending Old Friends

If we are lucky gardeners, little houseplants grow big. If we adjust to their needs, we can enjoy their aging, and watch as they mature and reach amazing heights. Like so much of life, moderation is the key when growing tropical container plants for the long term. When you put plants on your busy calendar, you may find solace in their routine care.

Schedule Plant Time
Pick an hour or two twice a week, such as Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning, and actually write "plant time" on the calendar. Take care of the big pots outside, the ferns on the porch, and the pots scattered throughout the house. Just do it: water philodendron pots that are dry, fertilize the Chinese evergreen, pluck old flowers off the kalanchoe, cut off the orchid's browned stems, and actually look at all your plants. Look for soil that's crusting, and cultivate it so water can be absorbed. Add mulch to pots that stay too dry all the time. Keep an eye out for sticky masses or crawling insects, leaf spots, or browning tips.

Take action when problems are small, and most houseplants will outlive their pests. Repot plants annually in winter or spring. If you want the jade plant to continue to grow larger, move it up to a pot 1 inch larger each year. Replenish or replace the potting soil, and take cuttings from the pothos to ease the transplant process.

Once a houseplant has reached its potential, or when the Norfolk pine will nearly scrape the ceiling, you can control its growth and still keep it healthy. Repot when water runs right through the pot, indicating the roots have filled the space inside. Slip the plant out of the pot and prune the roots, add new soil, and repot in the same container. Fertilize less as the years go by, but don't stop supplying nutrients entirely. Instead, use a slow-release formula once or twice each year.

Long-lived houseplants are those that appreciate the same conditions as the people who live with them: temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees, sunlight that doesn't blind you, regular watering and feeding, and humidity that keeps your skin supple.


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