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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Repotting a giant peace lily, addressing Christmas cactus bud drop and flowerless daffodils

A large peace lily (Spathiphyllum) grows in a

A large peace lily (Spathiphyllum) grows in a pot in reader Audrey Ricken's home. Credit: Audrey Ricken

DEAR JESSICA: I have had a peace lily plant for about eight years. It gets indirect sun from a southern exposure and does produce white lilies every spring. The plant has new shoots and has continued to grow, but I am thinking I need to transfer it to a bigger pot. I have put it off because I don’t want to hurt the plant. If you can suggest anything I should do, I’d appreciate your expertise! — Audrey Ricken, Woodbury

DEAR AUDREY: Eight years is a long time to go without repotting a peace lily, so I agree it’s time to do so. The plants benefit from receiving fresh potting soil every year — in winter — even if replanting into the same pot. Signs a plant needs a larger pot include visible roots at the top of the soil or roots that are girdling, which means growing around themselves. You can check for this easily by slipping the plant partially out of its pot and observing the soil. If there are visible roots encircling each other, the plant can’t thrive (in this case, gently tease them apart before replanting, and they will begin to grow outward, as they should.) Another sign is soil that absorbs water super fast and dries out more than once a week.

A day before repotting, water the plant thoroughly.

Replant in a pot that’s no more than two inches larger than the pot the plant is currently growing in. Resist the temptation to use a much larger pot, perhaps thinking you will be buying time before the next repotting; a larger pot holds more soil, which holds more moisture, and too much moisture can lead to root rot, which will kill your plant.

Because your plant is so large, this somewhat messy task would best be done outdoors, Given the weather, that might not be possible, so protect the floor or tabletop with newspapers or a plastic tablecloth.

Gently slip the plant out of its pot. I try to avoid pulling on stems because, invariably, at least one breaks off; instead shake and shimmy the pot either on its side or, if necessary, while holding it upside down — that might not be possible with a plant the size of yours. Use your judgment.

It would be a good idea to add a sheet of mesh to the bottom of the pot to keep soil from exiting the drainage holes, but this isn’t mandatory. Fill the pot about halfway with a rich, well-draining commercial potting mix and tamp it down with your hands. Place the plant on top of the soil, centering and positioning it as you see fit, then add more potting mix, pressing it down as you go to eliminate air pockets. When finished, the plant should be sitting in the soil at the same depth it was in its original pot. Water well until water runs out the drainage holes. You might want to do this in a bathtub to minimize the mess.

DEAR JESSICA: I just read your article titled “Where have the tulips gone?” At the end of it, you suggested planting daffodils. I, too, had the same problem with my tulips not producing flowers almost 15 years ago. Over the years, I have planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs as well as plants. I encountered the same problem as I had with the tulips: The greenery keeps coming up, but they don’t flower. I am hoping you could offer some insight. — Erika Coll, Massapequa Park

DEAR ERIKA: Daffodils are reliable perennials that multiply readily from year to year. They do have certain cultural and environmental requirements, however, and if they aren’t met, the plants won’t thrive.

You say you planted them “over the years,” but you don’t mention whether you have ever divided them. When daffodils become crowded, their bulbs compete for limited water and nutrients, and often this results in diminished flowering. The plants should be divided roughly every two years: Wait until foliage has turned yellow, dig up clumps and separate bulbs, then replant each six inches deep and apart. Don’t water until fall.

Daffodils also require well-draining soil. If yours are planted in heavy clay or in an area that retains puddles, the underground bulbs may become soggy and rot, or fungi, which thrive on moisture, could weaken and even kill plants. In addition, like tulips, daffodil bulbs replenish their energy for about six weeks after they bloom. Cutting them back or removing foliage during this time certainly would affect future flowering. They also require direct sunlight (at least a half day’s worth) and water to make that energy, so if they are planted in a shady area or aren’t receiving sufficient water during that period, that could be another possible culprit. Finally, if the bulbs are planted in or near a lawn that receives nitrogen fertilizer applications, that also could adversely affect flowering.

Daffodils should be fertilized twice a year — with a slow-release 5-10-10 product — when shoots first poke out of the ground and again when flowers open.

DEAR JESSICA: I have a 25-year-old Christmas cactus with offspring from its leaves. The original will flower from, say, November through February. It has sat on the same windowsill for 8 to 10 years and moved with me from office to office. My question is why don’t all of its buds bloom? Some get to be about one-quarter of an inch big and fall off. Any thoughts? — Paul Dombrowski, Floral Park

DEAR PAUL: Even though its name, “cactus,” implies it may not need much water, this isn’t true of the Christmas cactus. If the soil is allowed to dry out while the plant is in bloom, flower buds may drop. Although these plants like to be kept moist, they require well-draining soil and sufficient drainage holes on pot bottoms, and saucers should be emptied of excess water. Likewise, if plants are in a drafty spot (near a window, for instance) or in a room that is too cold or too hot, they may experience bud drop as well.

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