This is where I emulate one of those personality quizzes from a teen magazine: Have you potted on your houseplants this year? If yes, please click away, and enjoy your weekend. If no, read on.
I’m going to suggest something a little out-of-season, but bear with me. If you’ve not potted them on yet, this is the last chance to get to the garden centre and crack on with some belated houseplant husbandry.
A disclosure: the traditional time to upgrade your houseplant pots is usually around April, when the days are lengthening and a new boost of space and nutrient-rich soil can encourage a surge of growth as houseplants wake up from winter dormancy.
But getting compost in April was as difficult as getting flour. Lockdown encouraged a new-found fascination with gardening, and everyone scrambled for seeds and soil as a result. Throw in the fact there’s been a global pandemic and, in my case, the usual annual late-running of such tasks, and my houseplants remain firmly in last year’s pots.
So why do we pot them on? It’s the equivalent of a trip to Clarks with the imminent arrival of the new school year. Happy, healthy plants can swiftly become root-bound in too-small pots, which makes it more difficult for them to take up nutrients or water from the soil. With autumn arriving in three weeks, and the clocks going back in eight (sorry), that gives us two months to break in those new shoes before shorter days see dormancy set in.
It’s a simple and satisfying job. I like to gather all of mine from the various places in the house, often clucking over the forgotten ones on top of shelves in the bathroom, and lay them out on a table – if this is inside, put down newspaper. Everyone gets a good drink, because they have been struggling through a hot, dry, summer and potting on with dry soil is messy and stressful for the plant. Then the inspection begins. You’re looking for plants that have roots poking out of the holes in the bottom of their pots. Others, with more shallow root balls, may just look tight against the rim of the pot.
Then begins the game of pot roulette: often, those at the smallest end of the scale will end up graduating into another’s recently vacated pot. Otherwise, you’ll need to pick up a few more – I like terracotta, for classic style and porosity. Whatever you get, make sure it has a hole in the bottom for drainage. It’s crucial that the new pot is no more than a couple of centimetres larger than the plant’s current one – any bigger than that and you’ll be surrounding it with too much fresh, wet compost that can rot the roots.
A layer of hydroleca balls or gravel at the bottom will improve drainage and save on soil, and try to retain as much of the existing soil around the root ball as possible. If roots are looking black or mouldy, chop them off. Once it’s in, pat down firmly into the new soil. Water well, leave somewhere bright and feel satisfied you’ve finally got around to it.
Read more: How to holiday-proof your garden