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New potting mix in planters every year makes the best container
Must I replace all the soil in a planter with new soil
before replanting each season? These are sizable, long rectangular
boxes rather than ultra deep round planters. - E.G. -
It's best to completely replace the soil mix in a container,
I hope you are using soilless potting mix in your planters.
Water and air move more freely in soilless peat-bark than they do
in garden soil or bagged topsoil, when rooting depth is limited as
it is in pots. So container plants grow better in these lightweight
However, the organic matter in a soilless mix breaks down over
the course of a year or two. Unless it's refreshed, the mixture
becomes more dense. Then water can't penetrate as well and air
doesn't reach all the roots.
If your containers are very large but your budget is limited,
you might replace half the potting mix annually, combining new and
old material thoroughly.
Those brown sections on your houseplant's leaves,
...may be a sign of root rot. It's a good time to repot so take
that plant out of its pot and look at the roots. If the root tips
are firm and white, it's fine and I'm wrong. If they are brown and
mushy, clip them back and water better: adjust your amount
Perhaps there will be fewer false starts because spring
I hope that fewer people will plant their annual flowers too
early. Every summer my mail is full of questions about annual
flowers with spotted leaves, pale appearance, or overall sickly
performance. My answers begin with a question: Did the writer plant
those annuals before mid-May? Planting too early into cold soil
almost always leads to stem rot and root rot. These may not be
terminal but do stunt and permanently weaken the plants.
Wait until mid-May to plant most annual flowers, or be prepared
to bankroll a second planting in summer. Wait until June to buy
tender annuals and vegetables such as dahlia, caladium, pepper and
tomato since these require truly warm soil -- at least 60 degrees.
Soils don't usually warm to that level until early June.
Prune those dwarf Alberta spruces, W.P....
...or wait for new growth to expand and cover its scorched
When evergreens are dry in fall and winter as they were this
year, buds at branch tips often dry out and die. That's the brown
you see. You can shear the shrubs with sharp clippers to expose
live buds deeper in the interior, behind the burned tips.
If cutting out all the brown leaves only needle-less twigs, use
hand pruners to cut those brown twigs further back into the shrub.
Those twigs can't grow anymore anyway, and getting them out of the
way means more light will reach buds on the adjacent branches, the
ones we're relying on to cover the hole as they grow.
It may take one or more seasons for gaps to close, depending on
how much sunlight reaches that spot, how big the hole is or how
much of the top of the plant you cut off.
Ice-bent trees and shrubs can straighten
Even limbs and trunks that bent flat to the ground -- but didn't
break -- can rise through the power of hydraulics, once sap begins
to flow well. The limbs may not return all the way to vertical, so
watch for the straightening to begin and then prop them the rest of
Don't bind branches into the desired positions, unless you use
wide, soft cloth, loosely tied. Tight bindings lead at best to wood
that's weak in the long run, and at worst to stems dead from
Water well all through spring so the plant is as full of water
as it can be and grows new wood quickly. As this year's wood
hardens in mid- and late summer, once-bent fibers will be held
straight as if in a cast. Every year another layer of new wood will
increase that support.
You can prop an uprooted tree...
...but don't expect miracles. When a plant topples from the
weight of ice, pulling at least half of its roots right out of the
ground, it may survive if righted quickly before exposed roots
desiccate. It will probably need support -- prop it, don't stake or
You must leave supports in place and give extra attention to
watering and fertilizing until enough new roots form to replace
lost anchorage. Since uprooting usually rips heavier roots loose
from all the important, fine feeder roots, the plant's ability to
take up water and nutrients is greatly reduced. This means top
growth will be slower than before. Since the rate of root growth
depends on the amount of new foliage created each season, full
recovery may not come for years.
Green thumbs up
to looking up before you plant a tree. Note how far you are from
overhead wires and then use a reference such as "Manual of Woody
Landscape Plants" by Michael Dirr to learn the mature height, width
and growth rate of that plant.
Green thumbs down
to anyone who complained about being without electricity after
the recent storms if you were also one of those who've quarreled
with utility easement clearance crews, impeding tree pruning. We
can't have the cake and eat it, too.
Originally published 4/19/03
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