No matter that winter winds and snow still come and go in much of the country. The sun's earlier rising and higher climb into the sky let us know that spring is in the air. Even houseplants indoors feel the changing season.
Take a closer look at the stems of your houseplants. Any young, new leaves? Swelling buds? Inside their pots, roots might likewise be awakening. All of this makes today, tomorrow or sometime soon a good time for repotting and pruning.
How tall is too tall?
The most obvious reason to prune a houseplant's stems is to keep the plant manageable. For example, growing in the ground in a tropical climate, branches of weeping fig, a familiar houseplant, will reach skyward and spread as high and wide as a sugar maple's. Indoors, at the very least, your ceilings limit the desired height of a houseplant. For looks, you might want to keep the plant smaller, perhaps much, much smaller.
When pruning the stems of a houseplant, the goal is to reduce its size without giving it a hacked-back look. For a plant with many stems, such as a weeping fig, a few severe cuts usually gives better results than many small cuts. Trace one of the tallest stems down to its origin, and cut it off right there. Perhaps do this with another tall stem too.
After one or more drastic cuts have lowered the plant, go back over the plant to make some smaller cuts. Cut back any dead or diseased stems, and any that look gawky or out of place.
There are houseplants, such as dracaena and ponytail palm, that naturally sport only one or very few stems. These rarely need pruning; when they do, it's because they've finally grown too tall. Lop back the stem to lower than the final desired height. New growth will appear near the cut, perhaps even a couple of new stems. If you want to keep the plant single-stemmed, remove all but one of the emerging stems.
Check below ground also
Pruning the stems of a houseplant is just the first step. After a few years, depending on how fast a plant grows, roots will fill a pot until they have no room left to grow. Roots attempting to escape out the drainage hole of a pot is one indication of overcrowding.
More telling is to have a look at the root ball itself. Slide the root ball out of the pot. If it's a large plant, the easiest way to do this is to first tip the pot on its side. Are the roots cramped together and circling around and around the outside edge of the root ball?
If the roots are overcrowded, you could just move the plant to a larger pot. Of course, then it will grow even bigger, which may or may not be your wish.
If the plant is to go back into its old home, root pruning is needed. Stand the plant upright and — brutal as it might seem — slice off the outer edge of soil and roots all around the root ball. The bigger the root ball, the more you can slice off.
Stand the plant back in its old pot and pack new potting soil in the gaps between the shorn root ball and the container. Use a stick or your fingers to firmly press it in place.
Water the plant, and it's ready for spring.
Not for every plant
No need to prune and repot every houseplant every year. Many grow very slowly, so might need this treatment only every few years.
And some plants — clivia and amaryllis, for example — grow in clumps rather than skyward-shooting stems and actually do better with their roots cramped in their pots.
Lee Reich writes regularly about gardening for The Associated Press. He has authored a number of books, including "Weedless Gardening" and "The Pruning Book." He blogs at http://www.leereich.com/blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hottest plant trends in 2021
Whether neon, architectural or gothic black, the latest trends in houseplants are a direct result of the pandemic.
2021 plant trends
Rare plants and smaller terrarium species will continue to captivate plant fans, as they allow owners “to have the ‘look’ but keep things manageable sizewise,” said Leaf and Spine owner Dustin Bulaon.
“There’s a big trend for high-humidity plants, especially with the aid of the Ikea Milsbo cabinets that people are customizing to create mini greenhouse/terrariums. Expect hoyas to continue to be popular with collectors and the succulent stapeliads, which are prized for their unique flowers.”
Pink is alive and well, especially in high-maintenance plants that Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted in L.A., likes to call “supermodel” plants (gorgeous but difficult): calatheas and Chinese evergreen “Pink Valentine.”
“Pink plants, in general, are huge right now,” she said.
Many experts predicted Costa Farms’ Raven ZZ plant would be the one of the year’s hottest houseplants. The slow grower has a striking, gothic look with bright green growth that matures to a rich, purple-black hue.
A spokesman for Costa Farms, which has the exclusive rights to produce and sell the plant, said the rare ZZ, a popular topic on Reddit, will be shipping to California stores that purchase its Trending Tropicals collection.
If gothic is not your thing, Costa Farms reports that Scindapsus treubii "Moonlight" is already a popular choice for 2021.
Neon is in
Neon plants will make a big splash in spring and throughout summer, according to Jaime Curtis of Greenwood Shop in Valley Village.
“Neon pothos, neon cordatum and Dracaena fragrans ‘Limelight’ as well as the more exotic plants like the philodendron ‘Prince of Orange’ or ‘Florida Ghost’ will be in high demand.”
Plants as therapy
As the pandemic continued and people stayed home, Americans turned to their plants for reassurance.
Gutierrez said that at times she feels like a therapist. “We had one woman come in yesterday who brought her plant in as if it were a child,” she said. “She was so distraught because the plant kept wilting and not thriving. We had a therapy session, and she left feeling like less of a failure and armed with a little more knowledge and support. I love seeing how people are connecting with each other regarding their plant problems and successes. Maybe that’s the trend: plants as emotional-support decor.”
It used to be that plants set the stage for offices. Now they set the stage for Zoom meetings, classes and video calls that can land you on Twitter accounts like Room Rater. Because our homes have become our offices, several stores, including Plants.com and the Sill, now offer plants specifically for the home office.
Because of the pandemic, several plant stores have been forced to host virtual classes and workshops in place of in-person events.
Felix Navarro of the Juicy Leaf hosts regular potting classes on Instagram. Bloomscape’s Rookie Plant Care class often has as many as 70 participants.
Workshops at the Sill, a garden center in Los Angeles, were extremely popular last year — the store even hosted an astrology night with plant pairings — and served as a “great way to stay connected to our customers,” according to Erin Marino, brand director at the Sill.
Thanks to the allure of growing your own food, edible plants will continue to grow in popularity as people continue to spend time at home, said Bloomscape plant expert Joyce Mast. Many herbs, including common culinary herbs such as basil and oregano, can be grown on a kitchen windowsill, as long as you have about four to six hours of sunlight. Some hybrids are designed to be grown indoors in your kitchen or on a sunny windowsill.
The weirder the better
A big way to make a statement is with plants, and according to Mickey Hargitay of Mickey Hargitay Plants, the weirder the better.
“People are now appreciating the unique exposed stems and the curves and bends that are created with age,” he said. “Lush and fresh off the truck is still in high demand, but more and more we are seeing customers looking for something with a little more architectural charm.”
Philodendron varieties, anthuriums and the black olive (Bucida buceras) also are popular right now.
“These are not an easy plant to care for, and they are pretty expensive, but people are still insisting on taking one home,” Hargitay said. “They have that sparse architectural look to them.”
Look for Ficus altissima and Ficus benghalensis to replace the popular but finicky Ficus lyrata, otherwise known as fiddle-leaf fig.
“I feel they’ve been so ubiquitous for the past 10 years that designers are starting to shy away from using them for fear their work will look dated,” said interior designer Orlando Soria.
Last year, Bloomscape’s top-selling plant was the mini money tree, which is purported to bring positive energy and good luck to the owner.
Look for other miniatures to trend this year, including string-of-pearls, happy bean and petite terrarium plants.
Plant propagation will be particularly big in the next year as many first-time plant owners perfect their horticultural skills.
“I think as people understand their environments better, they will get more into propagating the plants they have and sharing them with friends,” said Curtis. “When we are all vaccinated and can see each other again, I expect a ton of plant swaps and prop parties to happen and hope to host them here, as well!”