Going Potty

Keith Mundy   

With the ever-increasing use of our outdoor spaces, the use of pots as a solution for growing plants is becoming far greater than in previous times, and the opportunity is right to offer some hints on how to successfully manage this form of gardening.

Probably the most important initial issue is to decide what do you want the pots and the plants to achieve? Are they to be used for growing vegetables, providing annual colour, for perennials or shrubs or, perhaps, a screening plant to hide a shed or some unsightly part of the landscape?

The pot size is absolutely the most crucial selection as a pot too small for the plant will cause it to dry out quickly, blow over in the wind or not be large enough to contain sufficient nutrients and water to keep the plant healthy.

Generally, glazed pots are the best as there are many colours that suit the colour scheme of the home, and these pots have a better moisture-holding capability than other styles. There are some very interesting forms of light-weight pots on the market now and these are easy to use as they are very light and come in some very interesting shapes and sizes. Terracotta pots are very stylish but tend to dry out, so if this style is to be used, seal the inside of the pot with a terracotta sealant.

When selecting a pot that might be used to gradually enlarge to the next size as the plant grows use a straight-sided or vee-shaped pot so the plant can be easily removed. A pot which is belly shaped is nigh on impossible to repot without causing serious disturbance to the root system or breaking the pot.

When selecting the plant to be used consider the eventual size of the plant, remembering that the larger the plant grows, the larger the pot should be. A plant that is to be used for screening should be in a pot that will also act as an anchor in a windy site. Too small a pot will simply blow over and, in most cases, break.

If you are growing annuals, herbs and vegetables, a shallow pot will suffice as they are all generally shallow rooting and do not need a great depth of soil.

The potting mix used should be a premium mix including some slow-release fertiliser and some water storage crystals. There are many types of mixes out there but the cheaper the mix, the lesser the quality. Cheaper mixes are basically just pine bark and if you are growing vegetables and annual flowers you will need to fertilise and water more often as these mixes do not have any moisture or nutrient holding capabilities. The cheaper mixes will be of no benefit to the plants after a season or two.

Watering and fertilising are critically important. Vegetables and annual flowers will need watering several times a week and require fertilising every ten days or so with a liquid fertiliser like a fish- or seaweed-based fertiliser. Shrubs and longer-living plants also need watering and fertilising on a regular basis although, with the fertilising, add a specific slow-release fertiliser for the particular group of plants you have used. Do this three or four times a year as well as the liquid food on a monthly basis. During the cooler months this can be cut back as the plants are not actively growing.

Just a few other things to remember include checking from time to time that the drainage holes haven’t become blocked by roots, rotate the pots to get even, all-over growth and prune when necessary.