The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Pot plant maintenance

By Justin Newcombe

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If your pot plant has stopped responding to your attention or you think you may have lost it all together, Justin Newcombe has the answer to a blossoming relationship.

Justin Newcombe first removes the plant from its pot to break up soil from around plant roots before returning it to the pot with new soil added in order to bring life back to the plant. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Justin Newcombe first removes the plant from its pot to break up soil from around plant roots before returning it to the pot with new soil added in order to bring life back to the plant. Photo / Steven McNicholl

One of the biggest queries I seem to get is about old pot plants. Unlike gardening in the ground, having a pot plant is less like gardening and more like having a relationship.

There's all the excitement as you drive your new friend home, often buckled into the front seat, when the conversation may be positively flowing. Then there's moving in and the interior decorating pantomime to go through.

"Yes that's it... a bit to the left, ahhh perfect, yucca, agave, statement barbecue".

And then it's the good times, the golden glow of love as your pot plant grows from the precious little pup you first saw on the $5 table and lovingly Visa'd to the beautiful green floribunda you now see before you, a triumph for you to admire everyday.

But just like any relationship, it doesn't take long for a little bit of inattention to creep in. Daily familiarity bites and pretty soon things don't look quite so rosy.

Little imperfections emerge, things you've never noticed before. The spot uncovered by a fallen leaf, the yellowing leaves and withered stem.

Six months later, no matter how much you've watered, fed or held your hand up in front of your face as you've walked past, you have to admit things aren't what you thought they were going to be in those first heady days. Your minor, yet reliable, contribution to the biosphere looks a fair way down the path to being toes-up.

However, this is not the time to abandon your relationship. You and your plant have to work this out. Never mind how things are now, focus on the future.

Just like the garden proper, most long-term problems are caused by inadequate soil conditions, a problem even the hardiest plants will eventually yield to.

The solution is actually quite simple and easy to implement, especially at this time of the year when most plants are, if not dormant, a little sluggish and therefore more forgiving.

We need to get the plant into the growth habit again and to do this we need get it out of the pot, trim the roots and replace some of the tired old soil with some fresh new stuff. You can re-pot the plant into a bigger container if you wish, however the same pot will prove satisfactory.

Before you start, starve the pot of water to shrink the root ball and make the plant easier to remove. Use a dropsheet to catch the debris, clip the foliage down by about one third, then lie the pot down to gently remove the plant.

Tease the roots out of the root ball to remove about 20 to 30 per cent of the roots. Then you're ready to start again, with some fresh potting mix, a dash of any appropriate fertiliser and a gentle return of the plant to the pot. Top up around the outside of the pot with new soil, and water generously.

The pot plant may display some signs of wilt but should soon recover if you plant in a shady spot and water regularly for the first six weeks or so.

Love will start growing again.

- NZ Herald

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