Springtime Madness – Busiest Season for the Indoor Gardener

Springtime brings joy, longer sun hours, warmth, and for the indoor gardener .. tons of work. It’s an overwhelming season especially if like me, you have accumulated a ridiculous amount of plants. Repoting, making cuttings, taking plants out for the summer, trimming,…and more!

spring cuttings

Worst of all, I do tend to get more plants during the winter and early spring, taken by melancholy for some extra greeniness and variety.  I get tempted to buy some orchids in bloom from my local orchid nursery (best prices ever) or order some new exotic tropicals. Mid spring, feeling all adventurous, I sometimes order seeds from exotic and strange looking plants.

orchids in the winter
Winter temptations

Things to Watch Out For

During the winter time, your plants need less watering, growth is slow, and there is no need for fertilizing. Spring time, however, everything becomes more upbeat and here are few things you need to watch out for:

  • Pay special attention to your plants’ watering needs! As the daylight hours and temperature increase, your plants will require more frequent watering, yet not as much as in the heat of summer.
  • This is the best time to repot your plants, giving them extra space to grow and fresh, nutrient rich soil.
  • Fertilizing comes into play, but you shouldn’t fertilize newly re-potted plants, so you’ll have to plan ahead.
  • As it warms up outside, some of you plants can be taken out to enjoy some good sunshine. However, you’ll have to pay special attention to the weather forecast to make sure there are no freezing days ahead.  It’s April in Chicago, the weekend temperature was in the 70s, yet it snowed yesterday and it might again tomorrow 🙁
  • Trimming some of the leggy winter growth, to get the plant nice and bushy is especially important if your plant flowers on the new growth.
  • At this point in time plants that took the wintertime poorly are at their worst state. Extra care has to be given to plants suffering from spider mites or any other type of problem related to the cool, dry, and low light winter conditions.
  • As mentioned earlier this is also the time to get some new plants to cheer you up. Local nurseries have just started acquiring new plants, seedlings and all sort of exiting gardening equipment!
  • One of the most important aspects of spring time though is that it’s propagation time. Some plants you can propagate year round, others are more difficult and spring time is your best bet at getting a cutting to root for example,doing air-layering and so on. It’s great to have a back up, and/or share your plants with firends!

 Some Useful Tips

When to Repot/Fertilize
new spring growth
Already re-poted, this citrus plant had tons of new growth and is rapidly growing…

So how do you know when it’s time to repot your plant or start fertilizing? Well the best way is to watch out for new growth. Not your slow and steady winter growth, but tons of new buds and baby branches appearing on your plant.

If your plant hasn’t outgrown the pot (you propagated it in the fall and/or it was potted late last year), you can simply start with some mild fertilizer and wait for it to grow out (maybe repot in late spring or even early fall).

If your plant has grown roots all though the soil and showing sings for a growth spur, it’s time for it to be repotted. On general wait a few months after reporting to start fertilizing. Your new soil is rich in nutrients and fertilizing it wont be necessary.

You can wait to repot your plants all in one day, but in my case that would be impossible. When it comes to re-potting I like to group my plants based on hardiness. I have quite a few that are hardy up to zone 8, even 7, but are not deciduous when grown indoors. I tend to repot those first, and follow through based on cold tolerance. I have about 4-5 re-potting sessions during the spring time, and almost as many early fall. If you have too many plants, I would recommend looking into ways to set up some to be passively watered along with repotting them. That would be a major help in the hot summer days, when you’ll have an endless amount of plants waiting to be watered almost everyday.

Starting Rhizomes

If you have gotten yourself some rhizomes, the best way to start them is planting them in moist soil in a ziplock bag. You can leave them there short of bursting out of the ziplock bag, and you wont have to watch out for watering them just so (too much will rot them), or having them dry out on accident.achimenes started in ziplock bag
ziplock bag sprouting

Propagating Plants

It’s always a good idea to propagate your plants and have a back up in case you overlook and kill some of them. You can use the ziplock method mentioned above for cuttings as well. Dipping the cutting in growth hormone will speed up the rooting process. Once your cuttings are set up in the ziplock bags with a bit of moist soil, you can just leave them there. The will not require any watering since the ziplock bag creates a closed system, and they can stay there until you are ready to deal with them.
magic jarsAnother awesome way to propagate your plants, and that one works even better than the ziplock bag, is the magic jar. You lace the bottom with small rocks (aquarium gravel) a bit of sand, then top with a layer of soil. Water just enough to get the soil thoroughly moist and put the lid back on. plant in jarYou’ve just created a well drained, high humidity environment, that unlike the zip-lock bag is not sealed off from the outside and can “breathe”. The bottom part with rocks and sand creates a good drainage, but it’s also like a water reservoir. You’ll have to pour a bit of water in your magic jar once every couple of months, depending on how long you leave the lid off while inspecting your plants in there. All you need is a sunny, but not full sun location and you are set. You can grow some of your smaller high humidity plants in there permanently. It’s a nice almost minimum maintenance set up. magic jar

When to Take Your Plants Outside

plants outsideJust like with re-poting, it helps to group your plants based on cold tolerance and take them out for the summer in waves.

Even a frost tolerant plant should not be takenoutside and left overnight if there is the danger of freezing temperature. It’s already growing and frost will kill the new growth and possibly your plant as well. Slowly accustom your plant to the colder outside conditions first.

Once the night temperatures are more or less steadily in the 50s F, or upper 40s F, you can permanently leave your colder tolerant plants out. I would however take them back at night for the first couple of days, before leaving them out permanently.  That will help them acclimate. I would wait for the night temperatures to be in the 60s F to leave some of the more tender tropical plants outside.

 

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