Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring Gardening 2015 (Sansevieria trifasciata) Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Over the winter months, I have neglected my indoor plants.  With less sunlight, in the winter, plants don't need to be watered quite as much.  I didn't re-pot any of the plants.  I just let them do their thing over the winter, and I hoped that they all survive the cold months.  Most all of the plants survived well.  My West African tropical snake plant did especially well.  I had trimmed it back over the summer, and broke off a piece to give to a friend to re-pot.  I knew the plant was getting too big for the pot, but I did not realize how badly the plant needed re-potted until I looked at it very carefully.  This snake plant was so in need of space, it broke the plastic pot.  Unbelievable.

I guess my snake plant needed more room.

This is my technique for making plants grow good.  In the Southwest, we have dry heat, and one thing that kills plants faster than the sun, faster than drought -- it's actually root rot from over watering.  The best way to keep the roots from dying from root rot is to correctly pot the plant.  I have some ceramic terracotta type pots, but the way I grow plants and give them away, I'm not going to make a huge investment.  This is just a typical plastic pot from Wal-Mart, and it cost just under $5 each.  It's just a real simple plastic pot.

After that, I'm going to use some plastic bags for liners.   Anything that is waterproof will work just fine.  I've seen people use the plastic tarps from Home Depot which are costly and work brilliantly.  I'm not going to make such an investment.  Some people have used trash bags.  One time I used a trash bag and didn't realize that it was scented, and the chemicals from the scented trash bag started to kill the plant so I had to re-pot and start over again.  I don't recommend trash bags. 

Some people would say I'm crazy for doing it this way because wouldn't you want more drainage?  I know a lot of gardeners create drainage by popping holes in the bottom of the pot or buying a particular pot because it has holes in the bottom.  You don't really need holes in the bottom of a pot to have a successfully growing pot, and I'm going to show you why.

Use a plastic liner. I had Nicole do this.  This is a great project for kids to do.

Now that we've got our bags situated into the pot, we are going to find some rocks or pebbles to put in the bottom.  Buying rocks at a gardening store, it can add up quick.  You don't have to pay for rocks if you can find a spot where the rocks are free.  Rocks are all around everywhere, and really shouldn't cost anything.  The rocks for the bottom of the pot aren't going to be seen so they don't have to be fancy.  They can just be regular rocks.  I'm lucky.  I live right next to a drainage ditch.  All my neighbors rocks have rolled down the hill so I'm going to take full advantage of this.  I'm just going to pick up the pebbles from across the street.  These pebbles are absolutely wonderful for gardening.

What I'm looking for are the pebbles.  I don't want skipping stones.  I just want the tiny little ones.  These little rocks are about the right size.  Some of them sank deep into the ground so I have to pry them out a bit.  This is what the first set of my rocks look like.

The difference between a skipping stone and pebbles -- well the rock in the center is clearly a skipping stone, and I don't want in my pot.  The skipping stones are too large and too heavy. I want the light little pebble rocks.  Sometimes Nicole tries to short cut it and put the bigger rocks into the pot.  I go back and throw out the big rocks, and keep having to fill the pot until there is at least a base on the bottom of the pot with pebbles.

So it's coming along good.  There are a lot of little pebbles in the pot.  I want to at least fill the bottom.  What these pebbles are going to do for the plant is they are going to catch the water and hold the moisture at the bottom.  What the roots will do is they will dig deeper to tap into the water source.  Also if there is too much water in the pot (someone over watered the plant), the roots can move away from the rock.  Giving the roots more choice of how much water helps prevent root rot, and also strengthens the root.

We are going to keep loading our plastic lined pots with pebbles.

This is about what I want.  I wanted the base of the pot to be covered with pebbles.  I am happy with this.

This is the old pot that was literally torn and destroyed by plant overgrowth. I still cannot believe this house plant was virtually strong enough to break a pot.  I've seen outdoor plants break pots, but not indoor plants.  Indoor plants destroying pots -- that's freakin' crazy.

There is an old wise tale about the mother-in-law's tongue.  How ever long your mother-in-law's tongue plant is is how long your mother in law is talking about you.  Since my plant is short and stubby, I would say the mother-in-law is talking about me not very much, but what she does say is very juicy.  I think that's just a wise tale.  People have some really far out stories about these plants.  I can make the correlation, the snake plant does look like a bunch of reaching tongues.

This pot was so damaged by overgrowth of the plant that the plastic virtually fell off the rest of the pot.  It was badly cracked and took no effort at all to pry away.  The plastic snapped off effortlessly.  As you can see this isn't the first time I've potted this snake plant.  The first time I potted this plant, I used two trash bags to double line the pot.  It worked well.  I know from experience that this is an effective gardening trick.

I'm still pulling on this darn thing.  The snake plant is so molded into the pot that it doesn't want to come out.  The plastic is chipping away.  I've barely given it a tug, and the whole plant has come out roots and all.

See how ridiculously thick these roots are.  If I wouldn't have known this was a snake plant, I would have mistaken the roots for carrots.  What I'm going to have to do about these roots is that I'm going to have to break them up a bit and separate them.  This actually took a little bit of muscle.  These roots did not want to break away. As I started to break the roots up, I realized the plant had re-rooted many more baby plants, and there were about 12 plants total that had all been living in one tiny plastic pot.  I guess that is kind of crowded.

Here I am still pulling this thing apart.  Snake plants are native to Africa, to Nigeria and to the Congo.  I can respect that these are some intensely strong plants.  They multiply quickly.  Snake plants are flexible about sunlight, and they store water within their roots and foliage well.  Sometimes I forget to water these, and they don't seem to mind.  Less is more with a snake plant.

I put some potting soil into the pot and dug a hole out to make a spot for the snake plant.  I disconnected each and every plant.  This will send the plant into shock.  Shock can kill a plant so try and be caring when re-potting.  Pull apart each strand of snake plant and carefully place them into the pot.  Secure the snake plant by adding more potting soil.  After the potting soil is to the ridges of the pot, you have enough.  It's time to water.  I use luke warm water to help promote root growth.  It's important that the water is warm, and that there is enough water to fully saturate the soil, but not to the point of muddiness.

This is it.  I have two new pots full of happy snake plants.  They are already reaching for the sky.  My mom had snake plants, and they say that on average most snake plants at most grow about 3 or 4 feet tall.  My mom made the mistake of putting miracle grow on her snake plants and they grew about 6 feet tall.  The snake plant towered most of the visitors that were men.  My mom bragged that the mother-in-law tongue plant  was how long her mother-in-law talked about her.  I'm not sure that rumor is true.  It's a great conversation piece.

In Australia snake plants are considered weeds.  They most certainly grow like weeds, at least mine did.  Snake plants are useful.  They add good air quality, and they are fun to watch grow.  People are always commenting how awesome my snake plants are.  I like mine.  I encourage everyone to try to grow these exotic snake plants.

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