Problems with Pot Plants
Subdivided into the following sections for convenience:
- General problems
- Problems with individual pot plants
Q. How can I water my pot plants? I know very little about care of these plants.
A. Where the pot plants concerned are being grown indoors, i.e. not in a greenhouse, they will fall roughly into two groups—(a) flowering, and (b) foliage.
Flowering plants may be seen mostly at Christmas, e.g. cyclamen and azaleas, but other popular subjects are hydrangeas and primulas. A basic rule is: Do not let the soil (called compost) in the pots become so dry that the plant flags (or wilts) and the leaves and flower stems droop. If you do allow the compost to become as dry as this, try to avoid it being so for long, as although plants will revive after being watered, it does cause a check to their growth.
If you know nothing about watering a flowering plant I would say for guidance that if you water twice a week this should be adequate.
Compost in clay pots loses its moisture and dries out more quickly than compost in most plastic pots, as the latter are not so porous.
If the compost is dry and you tap a clay pot with a knife handle the resulting sound will be a hollow ring; if there is a dull tone no water is needed.
When watering is being done fill up the space available and if the compost is very dry it may be necessary to repeat this after the first lot of water has drained through. When the compost is very dry it shrinks and much of the water flows down the space between the wall of the pot and the compost, which means that the compost does not get fully damped.
The same general principles apply to foliage plants, but less water is needed in autumn and winter, and here watering about once a week may be sufficient.
(b) GENERAL PROBLEMS
Q. Which are the easiest pot plants to grow indoors?
A. Much can depend on the facilities available, i.e. there can be warm light window-sills or windows which get little sun and not much light. It is important to avoid cold draughts and also to avoid uneven night temperatures.
Rooms which are heated by gas means that the choice of subject is restricted. Some pot plants which will do best in a room with a gas fire are ferns, Hedera and Cissus. Flowering plants are not generally suitable.
Some of the easiest subjects in ordinary house conditions are Chlorophytum, Ficus and Tradescantia, all nonflowering, or Bellerperone guttata and Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) in the flowering category.
Pot plants which will do best in a position where there is not much light are Hedera helix, Fatsia and Asparagus fern. Pot plants grown for their foliage effect which will stand the most neglect as far as uneven watering is concerned are Hedera, Sansevieria and Aspidistra. This does not mean that they should be deliberately neglected, but they will stand being dry better than other pot plants.
(C) PROBLEMS WITH INDIVIDUAL POT PLANTS
Impatiens (Busy Lizzie)
Q. I have a Busy Lizzie. What sort of treatment does it need in winter? How can I take cuttings from it?
A. These points are often raised concerning this popular indoor plant, and to deal first with the taking of cuttings, these root very readily. In any case it is better to raise a few young plants to replace any old ones which tend to become very leggy. Cuttings can be taken in spring or early summer and young shoots 2-3 in. long are most suitable. Remove the lowest leaves, cut the base with a sharp knife and leave the growing point intact. Insert the cuttings to about half their length in a small pot in a sandy compost.
Cuttings can be rooted in a jar of water, standing in the water until roots are well formed at the base. When these are 2 in. or so long they should be potted up into a small pot, usually a 3 in size, in some J.I.P.I or some no-soil compost.
This plant can have the main shoots cut back half-way in winter to keep it bushy. Frost-free conditions are essential. Q. Is it worth raising orange trees from pips?
A. It is better to buy a pot plant, which I think will become very popular, called Calomondin. This is a citrus (C. mitis) and bears white flowers and small round oranges. Growth is rather slow.
It is available from florists’ shops which sell house plants and, although more expensive than some, it is a well worthwhile purchase if a plant with a difference is required. It needs moderate but regular watering in winter, and it is best grown in a soil which does not contain any lime. Frostproof conditions are essential in winter, and the plant will be happiest in a temperature of 55°F. in the winter months.
Q. Why do fuchsia flowers and buds drop off?
A. This is most likely to be caused by a marked change from the even temperature of the greenhouse in which the plants were being grown prior to sale and the living-room or window in which they are placed after purchase. Uneven temperatures and cold draughts often arise when plants are kept on window-sills, especially at night. All one can do is to keep the plants in an evenly warm place, and to pay close attention to watering. Dry conditions can lead to bud and flower drop.
Q. If I plant a pot fuchsia out of doors will it live through the winter?
A. As this will very probably be a greenhouse variety (there are some hardier sorts) it will be best to plant it in a sunny well-drained spot, and to cover it with a 6 in. layer of ashes or soil for the winter months. All the top growth will almost certainly be killed by frost, but after the protective covering is removed in spring new shoots will arise from the base of the plant. Old dead stems are cut off to soil level.
Q. What do I do to ensure keeping my daffodil and narcissi bulbs after flowering indoors?
A. It is important to continue watering after flowering has finished, whilst the leaves are still green. Do not neglect bulbs in pots or bowls, after flowering, so that the foliage flags (wilts) due to lack of water.
Keep the plants indoors in cool conditions after flowering, and stand them out of doors beneath a wall on a hard surface from about May onwards. If you have space to spare in the garden plant the bulbs outside in May. The depth of planting should be such that the tops of the bulbs are just below soil level. If possible, plant where the bulbs can remain.
Where the bulbs are left in the pots re-plant them in August, after first parting the three or five bulbs, as the case may be, so that individual bulbs are planted separately.
Q. What do I do with my Azalea indica after it has flowered?
A. These colourful pot plants, so popular because some varieties flower at Christmas time, can be kept for flowering the following year and in subsequent years.
To prolong the flowering period keep the plant in a fairly cool but not cold room. Water moderately but take care to avoid over-watering. (If this is done many of the leaves will drop off.) For the summer months plant (plunge) the plant still in its pot out of doors (if you have a garden) in a semi-secluded spot. Continue to water in dry spells during the summer.
Feeding with a proprietary liquid preparation at maker’s directions will be of benefit from April to November.
Bring the plant back indoors in August. If re-potting is done use only a slightly larger pot than before, and do not use loam soil containing lime in the compost. Use peat and sand, half and half, or 2 parts peat and i part sand. Pot fairly firmly.
Q. Is it worth while growing an Avocado Pear indoors as a pot plant?
A. I think that the attraction here is that the seeds (stones) germinate fairly readily, and although it is not difficult to raise a young plant, I do not think that the resulting plants are very suitable as indoor subjects. I have always found that they become rather tall, too tall in fact.
In their natural state the Avocado Pear makes a tree 60 ft. and more in height. It is best to stop the plants when small, i.e. take out the growing point, back to a leaf joint, and thus encourage a more bushy plant. It will need to be grown in frost-free conditions in winter.
J.I. Potting Compost is very suitable for this plant. Take care to water only very little in the November—February period. I think it is best to raise a young plant to replace one which has become very tall or leggy, i.e. to have young plants only.
Q. I would like to raise some seeds of pot plants indoors and have no greenhouse. What do you suggest?
A. It is possible to get good results in early spring by sowing seeds in a seed tray and covering this with a polythene seed-box cover. Polythene bags in various sizes can be purchased for covering a 5 in. or smaller-sized pots which can be used for sowing seeds.
The covering must be removed as soon as germination is apparent. Stand the pot or box in the warmest place available, but stand it in the sink to drain after watering.
Q. Is it worth growing peanuts (monkey nuts) in a pot?
A. Only for interest, in my experience, i.e. where something different is needed. Seeds can be sown in the green‑house in early spring in small pots, setting them singly in 3 in. pots in some J.I. Seed Compost. Later, move the plants on to 5 in. pots when about 4 in. high.
Water them freely and feed with a liquid preparation like Bio, at maker’s directions, during the summer. As the seed pod buries itself beneath the soil, this should be loose. For this reason it is not easy to grow the plants in pots, and it is much better to grow them in a box of compost 6 in. deep and plants can be moved from the 5 in. pots to such a box for the latter part of the growing season.
Q. I have some young fuchsia plants, and would like to make some into standards. How is this done?
A. Select some strongly growing cuttings of a vigorous variety, and transfer to 3 in.-size pots, using J.I.P.I as compost. As growth develops, stake firmly and tie in the main shoot when large enough to do so, giving further ties as necessary.
Subsequently remove all side shoots as soon as possible, leave the tip (growing point) intact, and remove all flower buds as they form. Move on to 5 in. pots and replace the stake with one of the desired length—as thin as possible compatible with adequate strength.
Continue to remove side shoots until the main stem has reached to desired height, then allow the next four to six to develop. When these can first be seen remove the growing point of the main stem to encourage strong growth in the side shoots.
If these laterals are close together remove some to leave the remainder well spaced. A better head will result in consequence. The production of some standards, although demanding time and close attention, is well worth while as they are a valuable addition to a mixed pot-plant display in a greenhouse.
Q. I always have difficulty in getting geranium cuttings to root. Some of them always turn black at the base and rot away. The leaves may look fresh and green for a time, but no roots form. What am I doing wrong?
A. Probably you are overwatering the cuttings, and it may also be that the compost used for striking the cuttings in is not well enough drained and a more sandy (sharper) compost would be best.
For future batches dip the base of the freshly prepared cuttings in a hormone rooting aid with which Captan fungicide has been added. This is available from most garden sundries shops.
Q. I would like to grow a dwarf variety of narcissi in a bowl. Which sort would you suggest?
A. One of the most suitable is March Sunshine. This is about 10 in. in height and the bulbs can be spaced 1.5-2 in. apart, i.e. six in a 5 in. bowl.
This is not a true miniature variety, but the cyclamineus type flowers are very attractive. This variety is also very suitable for planting in a rock garden.
Q. What do I do to a Hippeastrum after flowering?
A. Continue to water the plant as long as the foliage remains green. Feed it with a liquid preparation like Boi, at maker’s directions, and keep it indoors until June.
When the foliage dies down stop watering and stand the pot on its side in a warm spot out of doors beneath a wall or under the bench in a greenhouse. If it is outside for the summer bring back indoors in late August. Start watering again only when there are signs of growth, which may be in late winter. Replace the top inch of compost with fresh, when growth starts to show.
Q. Can I take cuttings from a dwarf pot-grown chrysanthemum in the all-the-year-round group?
A. You can, but the resulting plants will probably be much taller and flowering at a different time than was the case with the parent. This is because growth may have been kept dwarf by use of certain chemicals, and because flowering time was controlled by growing the plant in controlled light conditions.
Q. I cannot grow Saintpaulias (African violets) very well. What are the main requirements?
A. These plants are not easy to grow well in the winter months unless they can be kept in a temperature of 60-65°F. They need a warm humid atmosphere. Best results are obtained if the pot can be stood in a container of moist peat. Do not splash cold water on to the leaves when watering, as this causes yellow marks. When a batch of flowers has finished pick off the old stems and keep the compost fairly dry for a month until fresh flowers start to appear, then recommence watering.
Q. I have just bought a rubber plant (Ficus). How is it best treated ?
A. Stand the plant in the light, but not in a warm very sunny window. Avoid cold draughts, and keep in frost-free conditions in winter—a temperature of near to 50° being best. Keep the plant away from close proximity to a fire. Sponge any dust from the foliage every 10-14 days. Re-pot the plant into a slightly larger size when it has made about 2 ft. of growth, using J.I.P.I as compost. Water only moderately in winter and fairly freely in summer, but avoid overwatering.
Q. How can I best stake narcissi grown in bowls. The foliage seems to flop and become untidy.
A. Use sticks..The cooler the conditions under which the plants are grown the sturdier the foliage will be.