Dish gardens and baskets of growning plants are wonderful gifts to receive — or to give to yourself.
Such plantings, however, do have a shelf life and if you received such an item during the Christmas season, it is nearing the time when you will likely want to do some work to refurbish it or to dismantle the display.
Some indoor planters last longer than others; those that contain plants with the same cultural requirements and that do not contain any seasonal plants that go out of fashion after the holiday ends can be left undisturbed for much longer than those that do not.
For example, a gift basket that includes a poinsettia soon looks tired and out of place when January arrives — particularly if its blooms are Christmas red.
Too often, however, such plant baskets contain one plant that performs best in bright light while another might be a shade plant and a third one that prefers full sun. This combination of plants might look good on the store shelf and in the garden centre, but when they are brought home, they soon lose their vigour because it is impossible to meet the needs of such a divergent plant group — at least one of them will be unhappy and soon flag in appearance.
A fast growing plant may have been included in the basket and since plants in such an arrangement are usually planted quite close together anyway, the planting may soon become overgrown and some plants might suffer from being crowded by the more aggressive ones.
If you are like me, you simply cannot throw out perfectly good plants so you must step in and rescue these specimens. The smart thing is to intervene in a timely fashion before any plant goes into decline.
How do you go about this task? Firstly, determine which plants you wish to rescue and which ones you do not/cannot keep.
Remember that if you cannot keep a plant. someone else might like it or you can donate it to a worthy cause — I have acquired quite a number of plants from the local MCC Thrift Store over the years courtesy of folks who have donated extra plants, which are sold in the store at very reasonable prices.
Firstly, dispose of any seasonal plants like a poinsettia. Consign it to the compost bin as it is already likely to be showing signs of decline and you probably don’t want such a seasonal plant in your indoor landscape going forward anyway.
Gather the necessary containers if you think you will pot up the plants individually, which might be the wisest choice so that each plant can be located where it will be happiest. Make sure the pots are a suitable size for the plants and that you have appropriately sized jardinières into which to slip the potted up plants when you are finished.
Use a good quality soilless mix as most plants will be happy with this; if there is a specialty plant in the basket that requires a special planting mix, perhaps you can add amendments to the mix on hand rather than buying a whole bag of a specialty soil.
When you remove plants from the growing arrangement, take care to not damage the leaves, stems or roots. Take as much soil with the roots as you can without depriving the neighbouring plants of their fair share.
Plant each plant at the same depth as it was planted in the basket. If the soil is quite moist, add just enough water to settle the plant into its new pot. Don’t fertilize at this time — wait until near spring — as the plants will not be growing much during the winter.
Remove any spent blooms, yellowed or dead leaves, and injured parts. Clean any foliage, particularly smooth leaves that have acquired a layer of dust on them.
Tamp the soil gently around the plant but do not pack it too firmly as plants do best when they are grown in a porous soil that contains lots of air.
Place each plant in a location where it will get optimum light for that individual plant. If you cannot supply such a location for a certain plant, then perhaps give it away to someone who can provide for its cultural requirements.
Another way to deal with a planted basket of plants is to remove the seasonal plant(s) and then examine the remaining plants and determine if they all have similar light and moisture requirements. If most do, remove the one(s) that do not and pot them up individually.
Keep the plants that do have similar requirements and then add plants with similar care needs to the basket, either by purchasing a couple of small plants or using some that you have on hand. This way you can display the basket garden in a suitable place and enjoy it for months as all the plants will be happy and remain healthy.
Don’t let your basket garden deteriorate until it is unsightly. Take action now to rescue some of the plants and either create a new basket garden and/or several newly potted plants that can take their place in your indoor winter garden.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.