Indoor garden projects and opportunities present themselves this second weekend of February as we near the end of our so-called winter vacation. It's only a matter of a few weeks before we will be launching serious outdoor preparations for spring, so we should enjoy the last hours of garden leisure while the schedule permits.
For example, resurrect the fuchsia that you've kept dormant in the basement since last October. Since fall, you should have watered the soil every 18 to 21 days to keep the roots alive, otherwise the plant has been left alone. In the coming week, bring the fuchsia upstairs, wet the soil thoroughly with warm water, let it drain for 15 minutes, then put the plant in a warm room with strong indirect sunlight. Apply no fertilizer yet. It will be almost two weeks before new growth appears on the lower stalks, about which time we will update the care program that follows.
While the white calla lily is a winter-to-spring flowering plant, pink and yellow calla lilies flower through the summer, so the tubers should be potted anytime from now to late March.
Inasmuch as the plant has been watered sparingly over the winter, allow the soil to go dry, then bang the rootball from the pot. Shake the dry rootball inside a bucket to dislodge as much soil from the crowns as possible. Shoots may then be pulled apart and planted.
Mix a fresh batch of 1-1-1 soil and wet it. Place a few clay shards at the base of the pot, then backfill with your wet soil. Scatter pulverized lime over the soil to adjust the pH to 6.5. Cover tubers or crowns with an inch or more of soil, apply warm water to remove the air pockets, then locate plants to a room with 60- to 65-degree temperatures and bright indirect light. Let the soil go dry between applications of warm water, generally every eight to 10 days. Once growth appears, fertilize every other week with Peters's 15-30-15 in place of water.
As for the white calla lily now in flower, the plant needs bright indirect light and moderate temperatures below 60 degrees to extend the life of the trumpet blossoms; as long as the plant is kept in a cool room, you should enjoy flowers right through to late March.. Use warm water to keep the soil lightly moist at all times, feeding with the Peters every two weeks to mid-May, at which time all plant food is halted. After the Memorial Day weekend, stop watering, move the plants to a basement, then turn the pots on their side for a three-month rest. Resurrect white callas the last days of August, bringing them upstairs, repotting and starting the cycle all over again.
Overgrown spider plants that have never lost their plantlets are candidates for pruning now so that the rosettes are potted up and enjoy luxurious growth through the spring and summer.
Baby spider plantlets are best started in three-inch plastic pots filled with wet 1-1-1 and limed to a pH of 7. Place the pots on the table next to the pot holding the mother plant so plantlets can remain tied to the mother plant while they take root.
At the base of each plantlet you will find exposed white tissue. Press this end carefully in the center of the pot, applying warm water to remove air pockets and firming the soil around the rosette. Soil may be allowed to go dry one or two days before re-watering the pot with warm water. When new leaves appear, cut the stalk linking the plantlet to the mother plant. Feed every other week with Peters's 20-20-20 from the start. By late May, roots will have filled the pots, in which case you should repot immediately to five- or six-inch plastic pots with 1-1-1 soil limed to a pH of 7.
The age-old problem of browned tips on spider plants reflects a number of problems:
Letting the soil dry out always causes browned tips. The soil should be kept lightly moist at all times.
Chlorinated water also burns tips. To overcome this, allow tap water to stand overnight in a tub or sink; chlorine will vaporize if there are good exchanges of air in the room, in which case the bathroom door should be left open and the shower or bath curtain pulled to one side. Bottling the residue of water the next day eliminates the problem.
Fluoride in tap water also kills cells at the ends of fronds. Fluoride will not vaporize in water left standing overnight, therefore you must use other means to prevent fluoride from being absorbed by plant roots. The remedy is to maintain soil pH around 6.5 and above at all times; at high pH, calcium molecules lock up fluoride in the soil, making it impossible for roots to absorb fluoride.
Other indoor plants display the same toxicity to fluoride in tap water, including the cast-iron plant, cordyline (ti plant), dracaena (corn plant), gladiolus, Easter lily, maranta (prayer plant), spathiphyllum ("white sails" or "peace lily") and spineless yucca. In all cases, maintain soil pH at 6.5 or higher to prevent fluoride uptake from city water supplies.
Finally, this is an ideal time to sort out indoor plants and choose those that you will carry over the upcoming growing season. The trouble is it's impossible for some gardeners to trash plants, even if they are antiques by garden standards.
Assuming your "old" plants are healthy, take cuttings this month or in early March to propagate the plant that's kept you company these many years. Take stem-tip and stem-section cuttings from healthy parts of the plant; ideally, cuttings will be three to four inches long and taken from thin stems or side shoots. Come fall, these plants will be flowering profusely.
A few of the indoor plants worthy of propagating now from stem cuttings include: begonias, bleeding hearts, bougainvillea, camellias, clerodendrum, coleus, crossandra (firecracker plant), gardenias, heliotrope, jade, justicia (shrimp plant), marguerite, passion flowers, stephanotis and verbena.
With stem cuttings, pinch off any leaves on the bottom half of the cutting, dip the base in water, then into a rooting hormone powder (Hormodin No. 2 or Rootone) and stand in a three-inch plastic pot filled with wet vermiculite or perlite. Sharp sand also works well. Hold the cutting so the stem will be an inch deep, then firm the soil around the cutting.
In deference to past practices, plant each cutting into its own three-inch plastic pot because not all cuttings will grow at the same pace. Place each pot in its own clear plastic bag tied at the top, locating pots in the warmest room possible and in bright indirect light. Plants will root in three weeks in 70-degree room temperatures, after which the bags will be removed. Keep the soil lightly moist. When roots are about an inch long, transplant to five-inch plastic pots filled with 1-1-1 and lime.
Jack Eden is host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).