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In a small effort to keep the printed word from becoming a thing of the past, I bought a new dictionary last week. I know what you’re thinking: that’s what Google is for. Well, not in my world. I have a whole shelf in one bookcase dedicated to dictionaries of every sort, and this new one is actually so thick I’m going to have to rearrange and relegate a couple of the old ones to a new stack on the floor.
I’m unreasonably proud of this new tome; it’s an Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, and the pictures are in color, no less. Yes, I like books with pictures, and so do you, if you’d admit it. I spent a couple of hours looking up things just to see the illustrations. Then I went back to the beginning of the alphabet and started all over again. I’m sure most of you will not understand my fascination, but having stuck with American Heritage all my life, I’m most impressed with this new acquisition.
Now, to gardening, if we must. January is the month for another printed delight: seed catalogs. Sit down, put your feet up, and get your orders in early. In the meantime, however, take a look around your house and take careful stock of your houseplants. It’s a shame to ignore the beautiful plants that made your house so cheerful during the holidays and just let them die. Unfortunately, however, most of them won’t survive much longer. After all, they’ve been kept in what we consider a comfortable environment – warm and dry – and that’s just what they don’t like. Plants need to be warm, too, but they want lots of humidity. Unless you’re extremely dedicated, you’re just as well throwing them on the compost pile and cutting your losses and disappointments.
Meanwhile, the urge to get your hands in the dirt can be accommodated right now by repotting those plants that are actually meant to live inside with us. Houseplants are often part of our decorating scheme, and even if you have to change the location of a particular plant, always use pots that are at least two sizes larger so the plant will have plenty of room to grow.
Leaving a fern, for instance, in its same pot will not retard the growth. The roots will continue
to grow and will soon compete for nutrients and water in the soil. As they wage this battle, they will not supply the leaves properly and the overall health and appearance of the plant will deteriorate. It’s best to repot for the benefit of the plant, not necessarily the appearance of your table under the window.
Lay the pot over on its side and tap gently to loosen the soil, then turn upside down and remove the plant. A healthy plant will have lots of white growth roots throughout the soil. A
pot-bound plant will have roots winding around in circles on the outside of the soil and they will be darker in color.
Now is also a good time to check for insects. Sowbugs and pillbugs are common enemies of houseplant roots. Treat the soil and the bottom and sides of the new pot with an insecticide meant for houseplants before repotting. After repotting, make sure to fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer. Then, starting in March, fertilize with every watering; in October, cut the amount of fertilizer by half.
If you adhere strictly to this repotting regimen, you may end up with lots of large plants and not enough places to put them. During this month, while you’re repotting, it’s a good time for propagation. Pot cuttings or separations from the mother plant to decorate new spots in your home. These newly potted youngsters also make great gifts for your gardening friends during the rest of the new year.