Repotting Spider Plants: A Quick Update
The other day, I shared what felt like a hundred pictures of my houseplants in their natural environments, and casually mentioned I’d be repotting two of them soon–namely, Arya and No One, the spider plants.
Arya was given to me by the same coworker who gave me Charlie, the one who sparked me to name all the plants. When Arya was handed over, she was in a Tupperware container with absolutely hydrophobic soil barely clinging to her roots, wilting, but with a bunch of plantlets hanging over the edge. So I took her home, got her a pot, and proceeded to let her do her thing. Spider plants don’t thrive on neglect, but they don’t need much attention either, so when I got around to checking on her, I watered her, pulled dying leaves, and nudged the plant-babies so they would touch the soil and grow roots.
After only a few months, both the main plant and the offshoots had exploded because they were finally getting what they needed, but this meant that Arya outgrew her pot even faster than I expected. So I did the natural thing and divided her rootball, putting a small portion in another pot, and giving Arya room to grow.
This is when disaster struck. Fungus gnats had been waiting for the opportune moment to strike, their eggs lying dormant in the bag of potting soil I used for filling out the spider plants’ pots. They are annoying to deal with, harm your plants, and spread way too easily. It was quarantine and triage time, and there were some victories, some loses. I had to use diatomaceous earth on the soil of all the plants in that room, had to limit my watering schedule even further, and install sticky traps. The baby plants that had been thriving began to suffer, their young roots not yet developed into tubers that could store water for months. A majority of them died off, and the recently-separated No One had a similar problem.
After many many months of effort, the fungus gnats were eradicated, but we’d reach the cool season, even inside our house, and the spider plants did not grow much more. I learned, in fact, that until they recovered from the shock, they wouldn’t be putting out plantlets. Baby plants can be produced by the hundreds under the right conditions, and those conditions include a slightly crowded pot. Now, they don’t like to be pot-bound, with no oxygen getting to the roots, and the roots slowly strangling themselves in their effort to find more room, but if the balance is right, the best way for these plants to spread is by shooting out plantlets that will find bare ground and root themselves, growing a colony in no time. Since I had removed the small portion of Arya and put it into it’s own pot, I had removed the pressure to create baby plants. This meant I had to wait.
I waited, and waited, but Arya never filled back in the middle of her pot, and the pot containing No One was rapidly getting too small. Spider plants grow tubers, thick roots that excel at storing water, but they also excel at applying pressure to pots. I knew that if I wanted No One to stay contained and not break out or kill itself trying to, it would need to be moved to a different pot. Around the time that realization hit me, it also struck me that Arya’s soil was staying wet way too long, and if I wasn’t careful, I’d run into another fungus gnat situation.
Wanting neither of those outcomes, I realized I did have a potential solution: rejoin the plants in their original pot together, swapping out the soil I’d used for a lighter mix that wouldn’t hold on to moisture for too long. Over the weekend, I did just that. Of course, I neglected to get pictures of the process, but suffice it to say, it’s a good thing I did it sooner rather than later.
Arya’s root system was not only suffering from the early effects of too much water in the soil–this causes oxygen deprivation–it was slowly strangling itself trying to find the oxygen it needed. The tubers looked healthy, but there was an inch-thick mat of smaller feeder roots that had woven itself together in the search for oxygen and nutrients. I disposed of the excessively wet soil, washed off the roots, trimmed them back a bit so as to make sure newer feeder roots would spread in a more natural pattern, and had my partner drill holes in the bottom of the now-empty pot. Providing drainage holes along with providing a lighter soil means that when I water the spider plants in the future, I can soak them in the shower or tub, let them drain, and then the roots will not be sitting in water, but will still get enough to thrive.
After that, I had to wrestle No One out of the pot. The feeder roots were barely below the surface, searching for ways to escape the tight confines. The tubers were in relatively decent condition, but slightly wrinkled, meaning that though I’d watered it only a few weeks prior, it wasn’t getting enough with each watering to fill up it’s storehouses. I cleaned the roots in the same way, checking for rot, and then carefully layered first rock (to be sure the soil did not clog the new drainage holes), then the lighter soil mix, laying in the tubers of the spider plants so that they were spread, not cramped, and yet didn’t have too much space, hoping that in the next few months, this means there’ll be more plantlets. Filling in the rest of the pot with soil, I compacted it slightly, just enough so that when I give Arya & No One their first good soaking in a few days, the soil won’t float.
I decided, after repotting, to wait a few days to water the plants, given that the largest chunk of them had just been released from an oxygen-lacking swamp. I’m giving the plants a few days to settle, recover from the shock of having their feeder roots disturbed, and they’ll get a nice soak to help them set up home.
Here they are now, together again.