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Contain your enthusiasm


Published: 06/26/2012

by Richard Rix

 From the most ornate urn that creates a dramatic focal point in a Rosedale garden to the half barrel loaded up with pansies on

 a tiny downtown porch, there seems to be one for every need. You must follow certain rules and practices with them,

however, so as to achieve best results. Plants in pots need more attention than plants in beds because they live in less soil

and dry out faster. They need frequent watering and should be pinched and deadheaded (i.e., the removal of spent

blooms) often. They also benefit from frequent applications of fertilizer, such as slow-release granules dug lightly into the

soil or a diluted liquid formula in the 10:10:10 (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) range. A higher middle number will

encourage bigger blooms, but never fertilize a plant if it is wilting through thirst.


Special soil

Which type of soil to use is important. Forget about regular garden soil – it won’t have the right texture for potted plants.

You should buy soil that is specially formulated for the purpose, and there are in fact different soils for different plants. The

most common types, for flowering plants, are rich in moisture-retaining humus and special nutrients.

If you wish to make your own pot soil, then equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite (for aeration), garden loam and coarse sand

(not sandbox sand) generally work well. You can add well-rotted compost, for a mix of five equal parts, if you like. Just

remember that it’s not a sterile mix, and if the plant is wintered over, it must be segregated from any permanent indoor

plants, lest disease spread. Similarly, outdoor plants can easily introduce harmful pests such as whitefly

and scale to indoor denizens.

Pots have the benefit of conferring instant height to plants, since the whole plant is above ground. If you have a gap in a

border that you wish to hide late in the season, a potted plant will do the trick. Another benefit is that you can rotate the pot,

enabling all sides to get equal light and shade. For even more height, you can put pots on stands that are specially built for the

 purpose. Since a pot full of soil can be heavy, especially when wet, you should usually opt for a pot on the small side if you

wish to move it around. That’s fine, since most plants do better when tightly potted than in too much soil, where they waste

energy  nurturing their root ball instead of their foliage and blooms. Weight should also be a consideration when choosing the

type of pot. Metal and clay may look more desirable but plastic is lighter and often more practical.

If you are not wintering over your plants, you may be tempted to leave the soil in the pot and use it for a new plant

next year. Resist the temptation, for the soil will be depleted. If you are wintering over plants, then, come early spring, you

should carefully replace as much of the top portion of the soil as possible with fresh stuff without damaging the roots.

Pots should drain properly, which means not too swiftly. Thus, if there is a hole at the bottom of the pot (there should

be one, at least), cover it loosely with a pebble or shard. At the top, leave a sufficient gap (usually a couple of inches) to

allow water to collect for about a minute. Mulch is useful for potted plants, for it will help retain moisture and stop the roots

from baking in the sun. Bugs may find it a nice place to live, however, so be on guard. You can create a living mulch, such as

with alyssum or portulaca, though it might compete with the host plant for nutrients.

Creeping plants, such as some lobelias and verbenas, can also serve as mulch and cascade nicely over the sides of the pot.

The use of pots can help you grow exotic – even tropical – plants that you might not try elsewhere, simply because

you can bring them inside each winter. Contenders are bougainvillea, hibiscus, mandevilla and passionflower. Be careful

if you have pets though, for some tropical plants such as brugmansia and oleander have poisonous foliage.

Pots are very useful for growing herbs, for you can follow the sun with them as herbs generally prefer warm soil. Parsley,

chives, oregano, sage and thyme are just a few examples. Dill is another favourite but stick to the Fernleaf variety, for the 

 others can grow very tall. While we have mentioned that pots come in a range of materials, be careful about using clay pots

 unless they are kilndried and frost-resistant, not just plain terracotta. Otherwise, when left outside, they may crack during a

heavy frost. Alternatively, of course, you may store them securely indoors.


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