healthy plant

Plants in pots

“How do you grow plants in pots if you only have a small patio or balcony?” This was a question put to me by a customer many years ago.

This was, to me, an unusual question, because as a person with knowledge of plants I assumed that most people know how to plant in pots, but thinking about it, it is not so strange and planting in small patios or balconies is probably more difficult than creating a large landscaping project or a brand new garden. The reason for this is that there are many problems which it may not be possible to overcome when planting in pots, especially in a small patio – such as; watering, plants becoming potbound, and nutrient deficiency. For instance, all plants dislike erratic watering, they dislike having dry soil one week and the next week they are drowned with water – they like consistency, little and often, and we will see that any plants will thrive very healthily if we continue to treat them this way. Why? because plants live healthily for three good reasons, food, in other words, soil nutrients, sun, and water. That’s all they need. All these are great environments to allow a plant to grow healthily. But the most important issue that will keep your plants healthy for many years to come is to attach an automatic irrigation system and a timer to water each pot. Why? so that you can give your plants water consistently – little and often, for instance, to set the timer so that the plants get watered for one minute a day. That’s all, one minute – however, this sounds a little strange but because the plant in the pot knows it’s getting watered every day, it won’t hold its root growth back and won’t conserve its water, therefore it will continue to grow healthy leaves and growth just like it should do. So we need to have some sort of outside water supply to be able to connect an outside irrigation system. For instance we need an outside tap, a timer, some 20mm pipe and some offset smaller trickle pipes to feed each pot. If this is not possible then you will have to go out and water your plants a small amount of water every single day and that is a great task. But growing plants in pots creates another problem. With pots we have a fourth issue. How do you keep a plant healthy if it has been in a pot for so long that it has grown its roots down to the bottom of the pot? We have to either continue to feed the plant adequate nutrients for the rest of its life or we have to repot the plant into a bigger pot with a lot more fresh soil and compost.

Plants also don’t like having restricted root growth. The most common mistake that most people make is that they put a plant that has grown to a good mature size into a pot half its size. In other words, if a plant has 2 foot of growing height above the ground it will have 2 foot of roots below the ground. This is not the case with most dwarf plants, however, such as slow growing species. Plants that are more suitable for pots are ones that have been grafted as ornamental varieties. So when you are looking for plants to grow in pots ask your garden centre to show you plants that have been grafted to become slow growing or are ornamental varieties. The final issue is the type of soil that you use when you repot a plant. When planting any perennial plants, shrubs, trees or plants for permanent display, remember that preparation is important. When you find a good sized terracotta pot ready for planting try to place a good base of gravel in the bottom of the pot to allow for adequate drainage. Then, if you are planting established plants such as shrubs, ornamental trees or perennial plants for permanent display, you will need to find a good quality topsoil to mix with a bag of tree and shrub compost, say 70% soil to 30% compost, this will give the best nutrient value for a long period for your plant. If you are planting more annual type plants consider using 30% soil and 70% compost for bedding plants.

Most plants will tolerate the above neutral pH soil consistency, nevertheless there are exceptions to this, for example, any acid-soil loving plants such as Hydrangeas, Camellias and Rhododendrons need to be potted in ericaceous compost, but these plants are the only exception to this rule. Again, try to remember, regular watering, a small amount every day, and try to water at the same time every day, and plant any permanent plants in the largest pot you can possibly find.

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page

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