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Beacon Senior News

Give your potted plants some love

May 24, 2021 12:58PM ● By Paige Slaughter
potted plants in a garden setting

In nature, all plants, animals, organic matter, microbes and fungi coexist. And nature is the mother of efficiency and bounty. 

Countless organisms interact with one another in the soil. As they break down organic matter (leaves, twigs, dead things), their web of activity enhances the soil, filling it with pockets and pores that store water for plants. 

Healthy soil captures carbon and recycles the nutrients that feed plants, animals and humans. Diversity in the soil makes for a stronger, more dynamic food web that thrives from season to season. It also makes for tastier, more nutritious food.

Above ground, a variety of annuals and perennials, fruits, roots and greens creates a diverse habitat for insects and critters. While it might be tempting to defend our gardens against all the bugs that nibble on the food we’re growing, they too contribute to a diverse garden ecosystem. 

Aphids attract ladybugs. Safe havens attract toads, and a single toad eats thousands of bugs each season. Invite beneficial critters into your garden with small ponds, safe spaces and season-long blooms, and by avoiding toxic fertilizers and chemicals.

Finding ways to mimic natural life cycles in our gardens is fun and beneficial for you, your plants, and all the critters living in them.


Freshen potted plants

In nature, critters, water, sun, wind, plants and microscopic organisms influence and are influenced by one another. Since potted plants can’t rely on larger ecosystems for nourishment, it’s up to us to give them everything they need in one container. But how do you know when it’s time to move your plant into a larger pot?

Every spring and fall, I freshen up my potted plants by giving them new potting soil, a good watering, and a day of fresh air and sunshine.


Remove the plant from the pot and pull apart roots. Breaking up the root ball with your hands helps to encourage root growth in the fresh soil.


To freshen them up, remove the plant from the pot and pull apart roots. It’s okay if you remove some of the roots altogether, like the ones clumping together at the bottom of the pot. Breaking up the root ball with your hands will help to encourage root growth in the fresh potting soil.

To help it grow in the fresh soil, consider adding natural and organic fertilizers, as well as compost or vermicompost (worm poop).


Time for new pots

The type of pot that houses a plant makes a huge difference in how it grows. Every container influences water differently, which dictates the environment for the soil and roots. 

Terracotta: Choose terracotta or cement for plants that like to drink a lot of water, since these materials are more breathable. 

Glazed: Enameled pots hold water in more and keep the soil moist, so be sure plants in these pots are happy with “wet feet.” 

Glass: Glass containers are great for carnivorous plants since they won’t add any nutrients to the soil like terracotta pots will.

Cardboard: I’ve had great success keeping my aloe plants in cardboard pots without saucers underneath, which keeps me from overwatering them.

Plastic: Plastic will always leach, so save it for non-edible houseplants.


Starting plants from cuttings

Plants are incredible in their ability to adapt, and this is true on a cellular level. Plant stem cells can essentially become whatever they need to be: roots, leaves, stems. Put in official terms, plant stem cells never undergo an aging process but instead immortally give rise to new specialized and unspecialized cells. Their pluripotent stem cells have the potential to grow into any organ, tissue or cell.

Generally, annual plants are best started from seed and perennial plants from cuttings. While some plants are more complex, here’s a go-to process for growing from cuttings:

• Choose non-woody stems for cuttings; newer growth is best.

• Look for a stem with a node—a bump along the stem where a leaf or flower bud attaches. This node is where new roots will emerge from. 

• Place cuttings in water until new roots emerge, then transfer to small pots where they can begin to establish.

While you’re getting your gardens up and running for the season, don’t forget to give your potted plants some love, or start a new cutting! 

Get growing with Bookcliff Gardens