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GIVE PLANTS ELBOW ROOM

If you have house plants, repotting is a fact of life. Sooner or later, your plants will outgrow their containers and need larger homes.

Many experts recommend early spring as a good time to repot, but with Florida's mild climate you can safely repot any season. Plants suffering from pests or disease should not be transplanted. A healthy plant will weather a pot change best.

Remember, too, that some plants are happiest when slightly pot bound. They can go several years without needing to be moved. But if your plant exhibits any of the symptoms listed in the box , it's time to repot.

When choosing a new container "it's important not to give the plant too large a pot," says Pete Peterson, a Hillsborough County vocational agriculture teacher. "Move to a pot just one, or at the most, two sizes larger." Pots are sized by their diameters, usually in two-inch increments - two inches, four inches, six inches and so on.

Selecting a good potting soil is critical to a successful transplant. "Organic matter in the mix is very important," Peterson says. "Buy a quality mix that retains moisture but also drains well."

He warns that not all standard potting soils are created equal. "Some garden centers carry mixes that are basically a Florida muck. They get wet, dry out and then set up like concrete. The plant roots need to get oxygen and a heavy soil makes this difficult."

Peterson also reminds gardeners not to plant too deeply when repotting. "Plant at the same depth as it was in the old pot," he says. If the plant settles after being watered, add more soil to the top.

It's not necessary to prune a plant after repotting, but if there is leggy or unattractive growth you want to get rid of, it's easy to snip it off while you're working with the plant. Some plants, such as peace lily, can be divided and placed into two or three separate pots when repotting.

1. Prepare the new pot, first with a shallow layer of gravel in the bottom for drainage.

2. Put in enough potting soil to fill the pot halfway.

3. Remove the plant from its old pot by turning it sideways and gently easing the plant out, soil and all. If it's small, hold the pot with one hand and grasp the plant with the other, its stem between your fingers. Watering lightly beforehand will help it slide out easily. If it's stubborn, tap the pot against the side of a table or counter. When repotting bigger plants, spread newspaper on the floor and carefully turn the plant upside down over it.

4. Gently loosen and spread the root ball with your fingers. If a plant is extremely root bound, you may need to slice the roots in a few places with a sharp paring knife.

5. Position the plant in the new pot at about the same height it sat in the old one. (You may have to add more soil underneath it.) Put more potting soil around the root ball to fill in the gaps, mounding it slightly.

6. Firm the soil with your fingertips.

7. Water thoroughly, allowing it to soak in.

Ready to repot?

Here's how to tell when it's time.

Roots are growing out of pot's drainage hole.

When plant is slid out of pot, you see roots growing around soil ball in circles.

Water pours out of drainage hole immediately after watering.

Plant wilts soon after watering.

General slowing down of growth.

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