Remember how we planted bean seeds in Grade Three, to learn about germination? We thrilled to watch our beans sprout, and were bursting with pride when we took our plants home. What happened next was inevitable. They died. For some of us they probably became the first in a life-long series of dead container plants.
I think it’s wonderful in a way that many of us keep trying to grow lovely plants in pots and containers, despite failure? They may have suffered serial plant death, but they still gather themselves up and try again. Which is why I thought I’d pass on these basic pot plant tips for easy care patio plants so that everyone’s next attempt can be rewarded with success.
Step 1. Get a big enough pot. This sounds so obvious, but often we try to cram too large a plant into too small a space and there is just not enough soil area for the roots. Plants need enough ‘soil’ to provide air and water to their roots so think about how big the mature plant will be and then factor in some extra room.
Step 2. Don’t use soil. It packs down and turns to concrete and when this happens, there’s no air in it, and the water won’t soak in. (It might look like it does, but it’s actually pouring down the outer edges between the solid-soil-lump and the pot.) What everyone needs to use is potting mix. It won’t pack down, it does a much better job providing water and air to the roots, and the fancier ones even have fertilizers mixed in.
Step 3. Planting is easy. Make sure there are some good drainage holes in the bottom of your pot and pop some shade cloth or fly wire over them so the potting mix doesn’t wash out. Then tip your potting mix in so that when you sit your plant (still in its nursery pot) on the mix, the level of the potted plant is about three fingers from the top of the new pot. Then just squeeze the nursery pot a little like an orange before juicing; tip it upside-down to ease it out; flip it back to upright and sit it onto the potting mix layer; then back fill with more potting mix to the level of the potted plant’s original soil level. No need to ‘tease’ any roots or pack anything down, but you do need to give it a good soaking.
Step 4. Now think about where your pot is going to sit. You probably already know a little about your plant’s preferences but if not, look at the label or hop online. All you need to know is how much sunshine it likes, and how much water. My trick is to picture where the plant would grow in the wild and then everything is easier. A rainforest fern is obviously happiest in dappled shade, no drying winds and with enough water so that it never goes without. A rose is able to thrive in full sun on a breezy patio given at least one of its ancestors may have come from Damascus.
Step 5. No saucers. If you can avoid it, don’t use saucers as they tend to hold water around the base of your plants’ roots and that can lead to plant death.
Step 6. Bunch them together. It’s obvious when you think about it, but plants always seem to look healthier when they are growing together. So drag all your pots together and make a cluster pot garden. Doing this gives you the added advantage of having all your pots in the same spot when it’s time to water them.
Step 7. Water your container plants. Put a note on the fridge door, or punch a reminder into your phone. Do whatever it takes to help yourself remember because they are completely dependent on you for food and water. If you give them some general plant fertilizer twice a year that’s great. The watering is more critical, but you’ll soon work out what’s going on. Sunny, windy days will make them go limp faster than a day that’s overcast, still and rainy. It’s just logic. And if you think you might be overwatering – which is possible if you didn’t take my advice about the potting mix and the saucer – just poke your finger in around the roots to see.