With the need to complete outdoor chores that were put on hold by the early onset of fall and the excitement of a new gardening season, many people may be neglecting the houseplants that served them so well during the winter months. Even though some of these plants may look worse for the winter wear, spring can be the ideal time to bring them back to their full potential and put some green in your thumb.
The philodendron with only one long branch will appreciate a good haircut. Trimming the plant to a node above the soil line or pot level will encourage branching and a fuller plant. The piece that is trimmed off can be cut into pieces containing 3 or 4 nodes and rooted in perlite or some other rooting medium. In just a few weeks these can be transplanted into a permanent container just in time for the summer season of growing. English ivy, pothos, swedish ivy, and arrowhead vine will all respond with similar enthusiasm.
For those plants with trunklike stems that have lost their bottom leaves, air layering may be the answer. Air layering works well for plants such as dieffenbachia, dracaena, and Chinese evergreen. Cut the stem about halfway through and insert a wedge to hold the cut surfaces apart (a toothpick or the prong of a plastic fork works well). Place moist sphagnum moss around the cut area and the stalk and cover completely with plastic wrap to prevent drying. New roots will form at the cut in a few weeks time. The layered plant can then be cut off completely and repotted into a new container. Unfortunately this technique does not work for Norfolk Island Pine. The bare portion of the remaining stem may also be cut into logs about 4 inches long and placed on their sides slightly below the surface of a rooting medium. New roots and shoots will sprout from dormant eyes that exist along the stem. The extra plants acquired can be shared with friends and relatives.
Some plants will also propagate themselves from a single leaf cutting. Select a healthy, vigorous leaf and place the cut end in rooting medium. This technique works well for African violets and jade plants. Another method using leaf cuttings is to make slits across the veins of the leaf of the Rex begonia and lay the leaf on top of the perlite. New plants will originate where these cuts were made. On the sansevieria, cut a leaf into 3 to 4 inch sections and place in a rooting medium. New plants will form within 4 to 6 weeks and will be ready for a permanent home in a well-drained container.
During the rooting process, it is important to keep the plants moist (but not overly wet) and the humidity high to prevent desiccation. Once in their permanent home, houseplants will benefit from regular feeding during the spring and summer months. Select the type of fertilizer (water-soluble or slow-release) that works best for your situation. Keep a close watch for any insect problems that may be present and control promptly. Getting your houseplants off to a good start this spring will keep them growing well for the entire summer and provide you with an excellent plant when fall and winter return.
This article originally appeared in the April 15, 1992 issue, p. 57.