Hanging philodendrons may need a new vessel and soil
Question: I have a philodendron that has been sitting in the same place in my hall for years, but has been hanging a bit recently with dried leaves. I haven’t changed the way I watered, so what could be wrong?
Reply: If your philodendron or any of its houseplants have been in the same pot for several years, the soil is likely to be deficient in nutrients. Regular watering over time leaches nutrients from the soil. Planting the plant in fresh soil restores these nutrients and rejuvenates the plant.
The roots can also be potted, also known as rooted. When this happens, the roots constrict in a tight space and cannot absorb enough nutrients or water.
Whether you need potted or just fresh soil, we recommend the same treatment: transplant your plant into fresh soil and a slightly larger pot. For this process, our California Garden website (bit.ly/3zLZn3M) recommends the use of potting soil developed specifically for potted plants because the soil in the tank behaves quite differently than the soil in the soil. Flower soils typically contain a high percentage of bulky organic matter such as bark, wood chips, peat or compost.
Whether you’re buying new potting soil or using the leftover bag from last season, always check the soil for moisture. Very dry potting soil is not able to absorb water immediately. Pre-moisten the soil in a container by mixing water with the soil and allow time for the water to absorb.
To determine the correct size for your new pot, measure the diameter of your existing pot and look for an approximately 2-inch larger one. The size doesn’t have to be accurate, but the plant will perform better if its roots don’t swim into the new soil of a much larger pot.
One day before removing the plant from the original pot, water it thoroughly. Otherwise, the juice of philodendron is mildly toxic and can cause a rash. Wear gloves or rinse your hands frequently during the next process.
To remove the plant from the pot, turn the pot to its side, tap around the side of the pot, and tighten the plant a little. If you see that the inside of the pot is surrounded by a tight root mesh with more roots than the soil, then your plant is tied to the pot. Pull the plant completely out of the pot, then expand and loosen the roots, including the roots at the bottom.
Massage in the dirt and roots to loosen the root ball and release about half of the original soil. Cut off the long, fragile excess roots and cut off the roots surrounding the pot. Remove dead or yellow leaves to reduce plant stress and gently rinse dust and soil off remaining leaves with a hose shower blower in a fine setting.
Then cover the drains of the new container with a fine sieve, such as a coffee filter. To make sure the new pot is the right size, compare the size of the cut root ball to the size of the new pot. When the plant is in the new pot, the crown of the plant where the stem meets the root ball should be flush with the surface of the soil and about an inch below the edge of the pot.
Fill the bottom of the new pot with earth and place the plant on top of the soil. Remember to leave enough space between the soil and the edge of the pot to irrigate properly. You may need to lift the plant to add or remove soil while the plant crown is one inch below the edge of the pot as the plant sits in the pot.
Add soil to the sides of the root ball, gently massage the new soil into the root ball with your fingers, then lightly press down on the soil. Water the plant thoroughly to remove any remaining air sacs. If the soil level drops, gently lift the plant, add more soil and push down again to leave the required space under the rim of the pot.
The vegetation period of philodendrons and other tropical plants in our area lasts from late spring to summer. You can transplant them at any time, but the ideal time or start of the growing season is in early spring or fall, when the plant is dormant.
Also see UC Marin Master Gardeners for tips on caring for houseplants at bit.ly/3HWDf9z.
K: The new California state law, SB1383, went into effect on January 1st. It requires residents to separate food waste from all other waste. Food waste should now go to the green trash, not the usual trash. But putting meatbone and other leftovers in the green trash will cause a stinky, slimy mess! Can I put food waste in compostable plastic bags and then put it in the green trash?
THE: According to the Zero Waste Sonoma waste management agency, the answer is no. Do not put “compostable” biodegradable plastics, including compostable plastic bags, in green bins.
Most California composting facilities, including Recology, Cold Creek Compost, WM Earthcare and Napa Recycling, do not put compostable plastics in compost piles.
Establishments that accept compostable plastics require procedures that first remove these plastic items and dispose of them in landfills before composting begins, to the detriment of any good intentions.
Leslie Lukacs, managing director of Zero Waste Sonoma, said compostable plastic packaging and containers will not be accepted due to synthetic binders and other problems, as reported by The Press Democrat last week.
Therefore, instead of using compostable plastic bags, Zero Waste Sonoma staff recommends that food scraps be packed in newsprint, egg cartons, or used paper towels before being placed in the green trash. If neighbors are willing, they can all share a trash can to store food waste.
For more information, read how Recology and Zero Waste Sonoma explain the new composting law: bit.ly/333GWf0 and bit.ly/3zQHNLG.
Can plastics be composted?
This week’s column featured Laura Eakin, Karen Felker, Patricia Rosales and Debbie Westrick. Send your gardening questions to email@example.com. The Sonoma County UC Master Gardener Program (sonomamg.ucanr.edu) provides environmentally sustainable, science-based gardening information to Sonoma County home gardeners. The Gardeners in the newspaper will only answer the questions selected for this section. Other questions can be directed to their information desk: 707-565-2608 or firstname.lastname@example.org.