How to Grow Stunning Plants in Containers?



Container plants always look very good in courtyards or indoors...

In both cases many people tend to have lots of small plants in small containers. This situation evolves over time as more and more plants are collected, but often results in a less than exciting display. Far more dramatic results can be achieved by using fewer, and much bigger pots. Indoors for example, one large weeping fig has much more impact than 10 or 20 small plants in small pots. Also, when you add it up the costs are much the same and the maintenance is reduced.It is important to try and keep to the same style of pot, the usual mixture of wooden tubs, terracotta and plastic detracts from the plants themselves.


Matching indoor plants and out door plants of the same type, both next to a large window will look outstanding, and give the impression of bringing the garden inside. These plants can be rotated, so that plants can have a spell outside to improve their health. If you have a pergola attached to the house, and large windows looking out, you can create a fernery or rainforest garden in the pergola, with pots of foliage or colour (eg. Impatiens) right up against the window. Most indoor plant are originally from rainforests, so this is a very suitable theme. In keeping with a tropical rainforest look is the use of cane baskets indoors to hide unattractive plastic pots.


When purchasing indoor plants, it is wise to buy two the same, so that they can be rotated indoors and out, and so last longer in better condition. It is simple fact that most plants do not grow well indoors, and the aim is to keep them looking as good as possible for as long as possible. Repeating the same plant also provides a harmonious feeling to a collection of potplants. Mixing a number of plants in one pot, eg. herbs can look very nice. Unfortunately some plants are likely too take over, at the expense of others. A particularly good idea is to put trailing plants around the edge of a large pot, to soften the edges and provide contrasting or harmonious foliage or flowers to the main central plant.

Outdoors you may have areas which are highly visible, where you like to have colourful pot plants. To achieve a long display you can grow plants in a hidden position and swap the pots so that you maintain a good display. It is worthwhile constructing large window boxes which you can put the pots in for a mass display. Another great advantage of plants in pots is that you can try difficult to grow plants. For example, if you live in an area with poorly drained clay soil, you can grow plants that require free draining sandy soil, such as Western Australian wildflowers. If you live in a cold climate, you might succeed with more tropical plants, as pots can be moved around into the best position for the plant. Plants that prefer warmer conditions should be grown under a tree (frost protection) in a north or west facing position, in full sun against a wall or large rock which absorbs and radiates heat. For humidity, grow next to a pond, are group closely with other plants. Pots are often the best way to grow plants if you are renting, but make sure when you move that they are transported inside a vehicle, as wind can damage them badly. 

Window boxes are not used enough. They can give a show of colour under windows, but also on the ground and can hide unsightly barbecues and incinerators. Most of the boxes (and pots for that matter), for sale are too shallow for good drainage.Tall Vitclay pipes are excellent for plants which need good drainage, but trailing plants should be used to cover them. You can make your own deeper containers with treated timber or a concrete mould. Of course you can fill them with the traditional annuals or pelargoniums but delicate bulbs, cottage garden perennials and cacti can all give a dazzling show. Pots and boxes can be made using a mixture of cement and sand or gravel to make a "stone" pot. These can be made to look older by painting them with yoghurt or off cream, which causes algae and moss to grow on them. 

Using a layer of crocks at the bottom of the pot does not help with drainage and so is unnecessary. A few small stones or claypot pieces can be used to partially cover larger drainage holes if needed. A layer of crocks will actually cause a raised (also called perched) watertable, and effectively reduces the volume of moist potting mix (not too wet and not too dry) that plant roots grow best in.
A mix of just soil is not good for plants in pots. In the ground, water in the soil can drain deeper down but in a pot much of the water stays in the soil causing waterlogging and root rot problems. Soil in a pot also dries out away from the sides of the pot and cracks and causes difficulties in rewatering. Using good potting mix is essential for these reasons, although a small addition of soil may be useful. You can make up your own mixes using compost and sand but you will get variable results, and may have disease problems .If you mix soil (no more than 20%) into a commercial potting mix you can reduce the watering and fertilizing required, which is useful for things like hanging baskets. Soil wetters often do not make much difference. The safest thing is to use potting mix, and perhaps add some lignapeat (brown coal) instead of soil if you want to reduce the watering.

Most gardeners find that coated fertilizers like Osmocote are useful, with extra liquid feeding (eg Thrive, Aquasol, Nitrosol) when necessary. The type of fertilizer, how much and how often it is used depends on the type, size and age of the plant, the potting mix and a host of other factors, so it is best to experiment and see what works best.

Root control bags are a relatively new technique of growing easily transplantable advanced plants. They are pot shaped bags that have a pvc plastic base and a synthetic material wall. When planted in the ground, roots grow through the wall, but are constricted, and stay thin. Most of the roots, and the carbohydrates needed to provide the energy to grow new roots at transplanting, stay inside the bag. Advanced plants grown in the soil without bags, lose the majority of their roots. There are also plastic root controllers used for permanent planting of shrubs and trees. They combine deep watering funnels while directing root growth downwards rather than outwards. This can be useful in limiting root competition and the affects of roots on driveways, pavements and foundations.

Hollow logs can make natural looking pots, particularly useful in informal native gardens and in ponds. Few things look worse than plastic pots in a pond. Of course the sides of logs can be used to grow orchids and other epiphytes.

When buying plants in pots it is worth remembering that:

- Small plants in small pots establish better and catch up with larger, more expensive plants (usually within three years). If you want an instant effect, you will have to pay much more.

- Plants that are proportionately small for the pot size, transplant much better than large, potbound specimens (even if it seems like you are getting more for your money.

- Square containers produce the best root system for trees   they prevent the roots coiling which means the trees develop extensive root systems, and so are less likely to blow over. This is very important in heavy, compacted clay soils where fast growing trees are liable to fall over eg Wattles, some Gums and Virgilias.

While polystyrene fruit boxes are not recommended for show, they make good "mini greenhouses"  for cuttings and seeds. A sheet of glass is placed over the top to increase humidity and the box is kept in a shady, protected position. Half fill the box with some propagating mix, or make your own using 70% coarse sand with 30% peatmoss or perlite. (Note: The glass top is unnecessary in warm climates or over summer).

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