GARDENING WITH DAPHNE: Time for houseplants to get new lease of life

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Spring is on its way. Suddenly tired and dusty houseplants show new promise; higher ambient temperatures and longer daylight hours start them into new growth, and for many of them, all they require is a thorough dust of the leaves, increased feeding and watering, and some pruning and shaping if they’re getting straggly.

Annual repotting isn’t always necessary. If a plant is healthy and the compost takes up water easily you can wait at least another year – over-potting can do more harm than good. If, however, water runs off the surface of the compost, and there is a mat of roots under the pot, repotting is needed.

Remove the plant carefully from its pot; repotting is indicated when there is a tight ball of roots and little or no compost to be seen. Only use a pot a centimetre or two larger than the previous one, so the roots can re-establish quickly; too much compost will become wet and sour in a short time and cause roots to rot where they touch it.

This is all very well for healthy houseplants, but poorly ones need to be handled with care. They should never be fed or repotted while they are looking sick, as this will have much the same effect as if you were to move house during a bout of flu – you wouldn’t like it! Instead, just water sparingly and give the best light possible, but not direct, hot sunlight, which will probably cook them to death.

They will soon show signs of recovery at this time of year if they aren’t past saving. When they start producing new, healthy foliage, they can be repotted, but they will not need feeding for several weeks as there will be enough fertiliser in the fresh compost until then. You’d be surprised how many apparently dead houseplants can be brought back to life with this careful treatment.