This week we’re preparing for a bit of a post-winter plant pep up. Yes, yes, I know that it’s been a stormy couple of days and things were pretty baltic at times. A few days prior to this – when I started writing this post – it was a very Spring-like morning and the birds were tweeting in the hedge. I made a coffee and felt the sun on my shoulders through the kitchen window. These fluctuations are an endearing characteristic of British weather of course.
Storms aside, by this point in the season we are probably all a little fed up of the dull weather, low light levels and cold temperatures. As the evenings get incrementally lighter and the morning frosts subside, I start to look forward to some plant care sessions. I personally like to cogitate on what needs doing a little in advance. Just taking some time to think about any plants that might look better grouped or divided, or ones that might prefer a haircut. Here’s how I’m going to be perking up my plants for Spring.
In this blogpost, I’m focusing more on cosmetic and visual tips that will not only help your plants to grow healthily, but also look good. As I’m renovating my space, plant styling considerations are very much on my mind – not only choosing the most suitable positions, but also giving the plants themselves a spruce up.
After a few months of winter rest and more minimal houseplant care routine, getting the snips out again can feel very rewarding. Over the colder months, growth will have likely slowed down and some plants might have entered dormancy. But, with Spring on the horizon, have a think about which plants could do with a haircut. I could certainly do with one after a few too many home haircuts…
In all this, it’s important to remember that you will learn as you grow and it can take a while to get into a groove with seasonal shifts in plant care. The first winter I spent with my Oxalis triangularis I was convinced I’d killed it. But in actuality, it was just dormant! Likewise, the cottage was so cold last winter, all my Ficus plants stopped growing altogether for some months. The main point to take away is that we learn from our growing experiences as we develop a deeper understanding of our environments and our plants.
I know some of you are a little apprehensive of cutting back your plants, but it really can make a big difference as it can help keep the plant healthy. It can also encourage new growth – exactly what we want as we approach Spring. There are two purposes with pruning:
1. Removing dried leaves
The first purpose of cutting back a plant is to remove damaged or dried leaves or stems. Over winter, inconsistent watering can occasionally cause die-back in certain parts of the plant as the roots have dried out from a lack of water. This has happened to my Maranta a little because I’m still getting used to the environmental conditions in my new place. I generally prefer to leave the old leaves in situ as they wilt and dry but that is personal preference.
At this time of year, my Aspidistra plants can often shed a couple of their oldest leaves., Especially if they could do with being repotted like my Milky Way plant below. The leaves are now starting to dry and I like to wait until they look something like this before removing them:
2. Re-shaping your houseplant
The other reason to prune is so that you can alter the shape of the plant in some way. This is another aspect of houseplant care that some people feel nervous about. It’s absolutely fine to shape your plant! For outdoor gardeners, pruning is an integral part of maintaining a garden. Yet for some reason, many of us aren’t as forthcoming with getting the snips out on our indoor plants.
By keeping your plants at a size you can look after them sufficiently they are less likely to suffer from neglect, pest pressures or under-watering. The other advantage is that you’ll be less likely to run out of an optimal position for your plant! Plants with a wide growth span like Stromanthe, Aspidistra, Rhaphidophora and Monstera can take over a space in time! Pruning the odd stem or leaf that’s growing in a funny direction in the room is a-okay.
As a disclaimer here, it is worth considering the growth habit over time of any houseplants you are considering buying. Trailing plants are a good option as they don’t necessarily get as out of control in terms of scale as leafy pot plants like a Monstera can. Things like Pothos and trailing Philodrendrons can be easily pruned to keep their size in check within your home. And if you think you will potentially be moving around a lot in the next few years, keep your plant collection manageable so your plants can move with you. I’m speaking from experience here…! I’m pretty sure this is also why so many old plants end up on local listings for sale. I just wrote a piece about this here if you want to read more on that – Heirloom Houseplants Part 1: How to find pre-loved / old plants (and how to revive them).
Dividing plants up
If you don’t necessarily want to prune your houseplants, then propagation by division is another option to manage size. This method is well-suited to plants that grow in clump formations like snake plants, prayer plants and tradescantia.
If your plant has become too big for where you like it to be positioned, or in the pot you like to grow it in, you can take action. When propagating by division, you should ensure that both ‘divisions’ have roots. For snake plants, if there is a larger tap root that can be chopped in half, this is a good idea and will give both new plants the best chance for success. Otherwise, some sort of root system is usually fine + better than no roots at all (there’s more on that here).
For foliage plants, take the pot out of the cover if it’s in one and if possible lay the pot on its side. If it’s leafy and this is problematic, you can lift up or tie some twine around the foliage so that you can observe the stems. Look for natural groupings of stems that could be separated. I’ll show you want I mean with my Stromanthe as an example below:
In the photo above, you can hopefully see that there are clumps that when taken out of the pot can be loosened and separated into another pot. I took a division from this plant a couple of years ago and it looked like this:
A few years later, it’s blossomed into a lovely little plant:
This Spring I’m considering making some further divisions of my main plant as I love the colour Stromanthe brings to a space (and this one is outgrowing its pot!).
Combining plants together
An alternative way to rejuvenate your pots is to combine plants together. If you you want to pep your plants up and streamline the planters in your space, combination planting is worth considering. There are two options here:
1. Grouping the same plants
Bringing a couple of pots of the same plant together into one planter is something I’ve started doing more and more. I often have multiples of the same plant – of my favourites at least – to experiment with light, humidity, positioning etc. There are certain plants that can start to look straggly after a few years. And plants such as String of Hearts and Scindapsus can get bare on top if you don’t regularly encourage new growth by propagating and adding back, or using the butterfly method (post here) and pinning stems on the top of the pot.
The main advantage is that combining plants together can give the pot a fuller, lusher, look. I’m going to be doing this with my snake plants in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to post about it on my instagram. One larger pot over a few smaller ones can create more of an impact for smaller spaces which can sometimes look cluttered with lots of small pots. I shared this post on Instagram about the plants I was thinking about combining:
2. Grouping different plants
The other option you have when plant styling your space is combining a few different plants together. If you like this look, it’s a good idea to opt for ones that have similar care requirements to plant together. This will help considerably when considering their collective watering needs. You’ll probably be more familiar with seeing this combination planting in outdoor displays like window boxes than with houseplants But certain leafy plants can look lovely when planted together. A favourite of my customers is a trough planter with a mix of Pothos varieties – neon, golden and marble queen.
Alternatively, plants with a trunk and an upright growth habit can also look eye-catching with additional planting around the base. I do think we are starting to see more typically outdoor planting ideas coming into our homes. It can help us to contemplate alternative, new ways to plant style our spaces too.
One of the easiest ways to pep your houseplants up as we approach Spring is to look at their shape. Are they standing tall, or do they vaguely resemble the leaning tower of Pisa like my Ficus and Strelitzia? Remembering to rotate them over winter can help to prevent this to an extent. Over time though, in addition to the plant leaning to face the light, the weight of new growth of leaves and stems can have a slight impact too. In the case of my Strelitzia, the plant was actually so root bound it was pushing itself out of the pot and leaning!
The other consideration is if your plants have been close to a wall, window or entryway. If these plants haven’t been rotated, you might notice that the foliage near here could be browning. You might also have experienced a dropped leaf or two. This can result in a bare patch of growth along the stem. This has happened to my Ficus which has lived in relatively close proximity to the door since moving house. Granted, the occasional cold gusts have not been great for my plant but sometimes you have to navigate less-than-optimal conditions. I’ve included a photo here to show how the part of the plant nearest the door is currently looking:
So what can I do? To spruce my Ficus up in preparation for the growing season I have two options. First, I’m going to see if I can add in a stem from another plant to ‘fill in’ this area and make a fuller pot. Alternatively, I’m thinking about growing this pot into a tree-like form in the long term. If I choose this route, I’ll top prune and shape the existing stems to encourage new growth.
If the plant doesn’t require repotting, you might like to add in a plant support in situ. A bamboo cane (I like these U-shaped ones) and some velcro plant ties can help to transform a slight lean easily. If you are planning on repotting the plant though, I’d recommend adding in the plant support(s) at this time. It can be more tricky to re-pot when there are canes to contend with!
With plant supports, it’s often easier to integrate these in when the plant is younger as the stems can develop around it and be supported as they grow and mature. This way, they also tend to be less visible in my experience. A well supported plant can also benefit from sturdy stems and larger leaves. The start of a growing season is an excellent time to introduce a stake as the plant gets ready to grow so I’m going to be looking at a few of my larger pots to see how I can improve their support this year.
For further reading you might enjoy my post How to train your monstera around a support.
It goes without saying that keeping your plants free from dust is a necessity in plant care. Dust build up forms a veil over the leaf surface and block the plants’ pores/stomata, thus reducing the ability of the plant to photosynthesise. As the light levels incrementally increase as we approach Spring, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at those houseplants and give them a clean. See ‘A friendly reminder to clean your leaves’ for more on this.
I’ve always lived in old places near roads, which means things can get quite dusty and living in a renovation has certainly exacerbated this issue over the last few months! Building dust just gets absolutely everywhere. Vaguely spraying houseplants with a fine mister won’t solve the problem either – a shower and physically wiping the leaves is often necessary. It’s not a complicated task, but it’s one of those on the ‘To do‘ list that can sometimes get neglected. Just think of it as Spring cleaning, but for your plants.
I hope this post offered some inspiration to carry out a post-winter plant pep up soon. Houseplants can be pretty resilient but that doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy a bit of attention to keep them healthy and looking their best. Just like a good haircut, a trim and re-shape can make a considerable difference in the appearance of the plant. I always like to do this before thinking about more arduous plant tasks like repotting when Spring arrives.
For some further reading alongside today’s plant pep up, I’ve also got a specific blogpost Getting your houseplants ready for Spring. Here I go in depth into what I do every March/April to prepare for the growing season ahead so I’ll link that here.
I’ve got a post coming up in a few weeks about my plant plans for the Chapel space and how I’m going to be working my houseplants into the interior design. It’s going to be so nice to hopefully settle somewhere after a few years of living in temporary accommodation! I know my plants will certainly be looking forward to less upheaval than in recent years! There’ll be another renovation post up on Wednesday and here’s the tab if you want to check out the progress so far.
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