Once all your plants have recovered from the rigours of the Hot Water treatment they should be clean, free from pests and disease. It is now time to examine each plant in turn and decide whether to re-pot or pot down. Ease off on watering to allow the compost to dry out a little, just slightly moist, not too dry. The deciding factor on whether to re-pot or pot down will be the size and age of the plant. Small first year plants in 9/10 cm pots can just be re-potted. The technique is quite simple, knock them out of their pots and gently tease away the outside 1 to 1.5 cm of old compost which will contain most of the old annual fibrous feeding roots which, at this time, should have turned brown. Try not to damage the slightly thicker white perennial roots, which will provide next years microscopic feeding roots. Remove as much old compost from the bottom of the plant as is reasonably practicable in order to lower the plant in the new pot. This will allow for top dressing. At this stage it would be a good idea to have some nice clean pots in various sizes ready to accommodate these plants. Once sufficient of the old compost has been removed re-pot the plant back into a similar size pot using a prepared compost mix. It is a matter of taste whether to use a soil based or soil less compost that has been prepared previously. [See Composts]Once the plant has been re-potted do not, contrary to what you may have done previously, water the compost. Let the plant stand for as long as reasonably practicable to allow the plant to recover from the root disturbance. Once it recovers it will start to produce new feeding roots and feel for the drip line, the outside edge of the pot. If the plant is watered too soon it keeps its new roots within the old root ball and consequently the new compost, if too wet, will turn sour. When the new roots eventually try to enter the new compost they will be infected with a water borne fungus and die inhibiting new growth. The only remedy if this should occur is to knock the plant out of its pot, allow the compost to dry out then re-pot once again. When it becomes obvious the plant needs water, which is when the leaves lose their lustre and droop, water them sparingly with warm water. The temperature should be somewhere in the region of 25 to 30 deg C. Spray with warm water at least twice a week using a mist spray to the underside of the branches and leaves. Add one level teaspoon of Magnesium Sulphate, [unrefined Epsom Salt] to five litres of water. This is a micro nutrient only required in parts per million but essential for the plants good health. It also acts as a wetting agent. If your Garden Centre does not stock the Magnesium Sulphate use Epsom Salt as supplied by your Chemist.
The photograph above shows a 9cm. pot plant repotted in fresh compost being sprayed with warm water to keep the ripe wood from dehydrating and losing its shape. It may be worth noting that this is the time to wire [see photo] any wayward branches back into position to maintain the plants shape for next season. Seeing a greenhouse full of plants such as this in early spring can really kick start your enthusiasm.
This usually involves larger plants in 15cm and above, small containers and up to 30cm baskets and hanging pots. The method used for this operation is similar to that described for smaller 9cm pots above. The main difference being the amount of old compost to be removed from the plant in order that the plant can be repotted into a pot at least one size smaller than its previous one. There are several reason for this, several of which have never been published. The first reason for potting down is to remove as much of the old, now inert, compost from the root ball. This old compost will be extremely acid from constant watering and feeding during the previous season. Secondly, if the old compost is not removed and the plant just potted on, the decaying dead fibrous roots and other organic materials will, during the natural process of decomposition extract and deplete the mineral fertilisers, especially the nitrogen, in the fresh compost once it has been watered.Thirdly, the plant becomes too small for its container, to use an old cliché, a baby in a double bed. Lastly, if your plants have not been watered with 'Provado', to remove any vine weevil larvae or other unwanted hosts, including worms. Once all the treated plants have recovered, take them one at a time and knock them out of their pot or container and using a sharpened cane, strong tweezers or other such instrument, start teasing the old compost away from the root ball.
The photograph above shows a vine weevil nicely nestled in the compost after feeding on the roots. Remember the old adage, where there's one there's always two. Rarely are they on their own.Continue until the large perennial roots are visible. Try not to damage these roots too much, they are to provide new feeding roots for next season. The next stage is to gently wash the root ball in warm water then dip them into medium or fine grade of perlite. If this is not available, use a rolling pin to crush some of the larger granules.
This method of dampening the roots and dipping in perlite is an essential factor which will prove its worth later in the growing season. If perlite is not available use washed building sand. This is porous and will absorb oxygen and water as opposed to river sand which is crushed granite and other non porous rock. Because of its importance I shall be a little more explicit about using this method. Later in the season when all your plants have been potted into their final pots ready for flowering they will continue to grow as the season progresses then suddenly, usually just before flowering, the leaves on some of the plants may start to lose their lustre and growth will suddenly slow down. Also, as daytime temperatures rise you will notice these plants will start to wilt and will only recover when the temperatures start to drop with the onset of evening. I am fairly certain that all growers, whatever their ability, will have experienced this anomaly at some time or other and will attribute it to a variety of causes. The usual explanation is the old favourite, over watering, which can cover a multitude of sins. In nearly all cases this anomaly is caused by progressive root growth causing compaction of the compost. As plant growth increases so do the roots. Their girth and length increase. This growth and expansion of the root system of a healthy plant has a dramatic effect on the compost, more especially with soil less composts. As the roots grow they expand and slowly start to compact the compost. This compaction of the compost by the roots slowly exhausts all the oxygen within the root ball. This in turn has a knock on effect by reducing the oxygen supply to the healthy bacteria involved in the process of breaking down the organic and mineral constituents of the compost into the sugars and salts for use by the plant. The compaction of the root ball also impedes drainage which results in the compost staying too wet. Consequently, the compost turns sour, extremely acid, and the feeding roots die. When this occurs, the novice grower often attributes the slow down in growth and lack of lustre to the foliage to starvation and applies a soluble feed. This just accelerates the problem and the demise of the plant. If, now knowing the facts, this problem occurs then you have the remedy, include material such as perlite, sand or vermiculite to the root ball before potting up. These materials totally resist compaction, aid drainage and allow the ingress of fresh oxygen each time the plant is watered. If, as described above, where the plant has just been repotted, the next time these plants require potting on, just dampen the root ball, dip it in some perlite or similar material then add the fresh compost to complete the potting up. The fresh compost should already have these materials included. Once sufficient of the old compost has been removed and the root ball treated as described above, re-pot the plant into a new pot at least one size smaller than it had been grown in previously. Use the method described in the chapter on 'Potting Up', whereby a small amount of fresh compost is sprinkled into the bottom of the new pot, no more than 1cm, to protect the root ball from the plastic or clay of the new pot. Place the plant into the pot and top up with fresh compost covering as much of the old ripe wood as possible. This allows most of the new compost to be added above the root ball, which when watered, washes the soluble nutrients down into the root ball where it is immediately available to the plant. If this method is not used, the newly potted plant will starve until such time as its new roots can penetrate the new compost in search of food. It also encourages new roots to form on the old ripe wood, visible on the photograph below, where the top 3 to 4 cm of compost has been purposely washed away to show the benefits. I did not, until this time, appreciate that the ripe wood would forms new roots so readily, an added bonus for this method of repotting. This method is also used, and will be reiterated, in the chapter on 'Potting Up'
Having completed repotting, potting down, grow your plants on through the winter months using the minimum of heat, between 5 to 8 deg C 40 to 45 deg F. to encourage short jointed compact growth for the early supply of cutting material. If too high a temperature is maintained it will only result in lush elongated large leaved growth which make poor cutting material which later on will be prone to attack by all and sundry. Excessive heat is an expensive way of ruining your plants. Grown them on in controlled cool conditions for the best results. See the Chapter on Propagation. Success will be depend on not letting the compost dry out and spraying with warm water when the weather is suitable. Your dedication will be well rewarded.The next stage in the sequence of the 'Fuchsia Year' is pruning.