Early spring is one of the best times to repot a houseplant that needs repotting. The first step is to remove it from the pot. Turn it upside down, tap the rim of the pot on the table to loosen the soil ball and then let it slide out into your hands.
If the roots are crowded together and matted and you can scarcely see any soil because of the roots, the plant needs a larger pot. But if you cannot see any roots, scrape off a little soil. If the plant obviously has a poor root system, it should be changed to a pot one size smaller.
Water the plant a few hours before checking it -- the plant can be removed from the pot with less cracking of the soil ball if the soil is somewhat moist.
The packages of potting soils sold at most large garden centers are suitable for repotting houseplants. If you want to mix your own, a mixture of one part peat, one part vermiculite or perlite and one part good garden soil is satisfactory.
Use a pot one size larger for plants that have outgrown their pots. If the pot has been used before, scrub it thoroughly in warm water with a stiff brush. Before using new clay pots, soak them in water for about six hours.
Proper watering is difficult with pots that don't have drainage holes: The plants get either too much water or not enough.
At this time of year houseplants need to be watered more often, for as days get longer, the soil dries out faster.
Feel the soil regularly, and when it starts to feel dry water the plant. Pour in room-temperature water until it comes out at the bottom. Wait about 20 minutes for excess water to drain, and empty the saucer.
If the container has no drainage holes, apply water as it appears to be needed, wait about 20 minutes and then put the container on its side in the sink so excess water can escape. If roots stand in water for long, root rot is almost certain to occur.
Do your house plants look a bit dingy? Perhaps they need a sponge bath, which, given at regular intervals, can improve not only their appearance but their health as well. You may be surprised to see how fast grime accumulates on plants, both indoors and out.
Q. -- I saw in the paper that Irish potatoes are easy to grow. Is that true? I thought they were difficult. I've tried several times, no success. A -- Potatoes are susceptible to several diseases and unless they are sprayed with Maneb or Captan at five - to 10-day intervals early in the season and at three - to five-day intervals later on against blight, you may not get a crop. They also need to be planted in acid soil. If you want to try them, make sure you get certified ones to plant. Scientists are searching worldwide for wild varieties in hopes of being able to breed disease-resistant kinds and for parasites to help control pototo beetles. Q -- I have a black walnut tree standing in the ideal spot for a vegetable garden. If I have it removed, how long will the toxin from the roots remain in the soil? A -- There is some question as to how long the walnut roots remain toxic after the roots are dead. Beets, snap beans and corn are apparently not damaged by walnut tree roots, nor are peach, cherry, plum or pear trees. Tomatoes and potatoes will be damaged if the walnut tree roots touch their roots. Q -- I am having trouble with mealybugs on my Afican violets. How can I get rid of them? A -- Swabbing them with rubbing alchol will kill them. It will be necessary to examine and swab every week for two or three months to finally get rid of new ones that hatch from eggs.