Gardening Tips

How to Repot House Plants

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Does it seem like your houseplants look "sick and tired"? Sooner or later, your houseplant will surely come the day when it has outgrown its starter pot. The roots will be tangled. It is especially wise to check in on your potted plants at winter's end when the promise of vernal sun brings on hardy growth spurts, and your ready-to-burst houseplant begs for roomier real estate.

When to Repot

Over time, your plants' soil loses essential nutrients and the ability to hold water. While the soil is depleting, the plant’s' roots continue to grow, taking up more and more space in the pot. Soon, the plant becomes "root-bound" (or "pot-bound.") This combination of factors inevitably leads to a sick plant.

Here are a few telltale signs it's time to repot:

  • The plant is "root-bound" (roots wind around inside of pot or poke out drainage holes).
  • The plant is deformed or top-heavy.
  • You notice the appearance of brown, unhealthy roots at the bottom of the root ball.
  • The bottom leaves turn yellow and drop off or leaves are pale and dull.
  • The plant wilts between normal watering.
  • Water drains quickly through the soil.

Fall Bulbs

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In temperate regions with four seasons, autumn is a great time to prepare gardens for next spring. Adding bulbs to flowerbeds in the fall should result in lovely blooms after the spring thaw.

Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in autumn because they're hardy in colder temperate climates and they require a cool dormant period of at least 8 to 12 weeks before they can produce flower buds. The planted bulbs develop roots until the ground freezes. If you live in a warmer climate, spring-flowering bulbs can be forced in a refrigerator at approximately 40ºF–50ºF (above freezing) for at least 8 to 10 weeks, or until signs of growth are apparent.

Bulbs can be planted until the ground is frozen or no longer workable. Daffodils and narcissus should be planted earlier (beginning of September to late October). Other bulbs, especially tulips, can be planted from early September through to mid-December, as long as the ground is not frozen solid.

When purchasing bulbs, look for good-sized, firm ones—these will produce the best blooms. Discard any that show signs of rot, are soft, or crumble when squeezed.

Winterizing Containers and Their Plants

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When it comes to container gardening, what you use as the container is limited only by your imagination. There are your standard garden pots, barrels and baskets, and your not-so-standard kitchen pots and pans, tires, wheelbarrows, old sinks and bathtubs, even shoes! Most reusable commercial containers are made of plastic, terra cotta, stone, wood, metal or wire. All containers, regardless of material, require winter-storage preparations.

Bringing Containers Inside

Remove any weeds and dead plant material and empty the soil into the garden (unless you plan to reuse it — opinions vary as to whether or not you should). Rinse the pot to remove large dirt clumps. Using a 10% bleach solution (to kill any possible disease or insect organisms from this year’s plantings), hot water and a stiff brush, scrub the pot to remove any remaining dirt. Rinse and stack when dry.

Consider Variegated Plants in your Garden

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Designing With Variegated Plants

Variegation in plants can take many different forms, from stripes to streaks, bands, chevrons, blotches and spots. It's important to pay close attention to these patterns to ensure resulting plant combinations are pleasing to the eye. But, combining stripes, dots and blotches or non-compatible color combinations creates a kaleidoscopic, unnatural look. Remember to exercise restraint, and focus on plants with similar color variations and patterns, as well as like or compatible forms and textures.

In the shade garden, plants with significant white, cream and yellow variegated foliage reflect light. Consider using drifts of variegated plants to highlight parts of the garden. Similarly, green foliage infused with silver, such as in the Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum',) not only reflects daylight but also moonlight. Another use for these plants is to create transitions between groups of differently colored plants, for this, variegated foliage will do the job. The eye is first attracted to the pattern and then moves to the single color masses on the flanks

The Garden of Weedin'

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The Cornell Weed Garden is a scientific utopia that features 85 of the Northeast’s most tenacious, loathsome and frustrating plants known to farmers and home gardeners, but sometimes surprisingly tasty to naturalists.

“Students appreciate hands-on learning, and the Cornell Weed Garden is experiential,” says Antonio DiTommaso, associate professor of weed ecology and management in crop and soil sciences at Cornell. “Students in my weed science course are expected to know about 90 weeds including from seeds for the more common species. Rather than just learn in a classroom or from a textbook, they can appreciate and see firsthand the diversity, the shapes, sizes, characteristics – so that one day they can use this knowledge to better manage these troublesome plants.