Reviewing the role of container plants here

Large gardens need large pots - a weeping totara at our entranceway

Large gardens need large pots – a weeping totara at our entranceway

I am reviewing my container plants, one by one. I am a bit fed up with them and unless they have a strong case, they will be history.

Generally plants in containers become featured plants so it matters that they look in the peak of health. Unhealthy, starving specimens are a sad sight. This means regular repotting and therein lies the main disadvantage, though the bulbs are no problem. I redo those every year as a rule, using a basic composted bark mix and slow release fertiliser. It is a good wet weather occupation.

No, it is the shrubs or trees that I have in pots that are the issue. This is compounded by the fact that we have a large garden. Large gardens need large pots with large plants. Otherwise they just look out of proportion. And while I can spin most of the trees and shrubs out to a two year repotting cycle, it still has to be done. It is a heavy, dirty occupation and not one I enjoy. It is a two person job to wrestle the root bound plants out of their pots and into the wheelbarrow. I hose off all the old mix, trim the roots, shape the plant, and battle it back into the pot with enough fresh mix to sustain growth.

At least I will never again make the mistake of buying containers which are narrower at the top, no matter how attractive they look. You only do that once before realising that such pots are better as an ornament without the plant. It tends to be a case of destroying either the pot or the plant when it comes to getting them apart. It is all right. You do not have to put a plant into a pot. If it is an attractive pot worth displaying, it can be used on its own as a piece of garden decoration.

There was a time BC – Before Containers. They are a relatively recent garden fashion, aided and abetted by the explosion of plant pots from Asia. Believe it or not, these used to be quite expensive. Now they are cheap as chips and, as far as I am concerned, correspondingly expendable. I have long since dispensed with almost all the glazed, coloured pots I had bought as fashion items. All that remain are those in earth tones or good old fashioned terracotta. It is a matter of taste but I don’t want coloured pots, let alone ones decorated with bamboo shoots, dragons, butterflies, sunflowers or anything else for that matter. Hanging baskets are not for me, either.

Softening the scene but Cordyline stricta has to be repotted every year

Softening the scene but Cordyline stricta has to be repotted every year

My review of the containers has led me to the conclusion that there has to be a good reason for their existence. Either they exist to soften a harsh view – in our case, the entrance way and a small paved courtyard. Or they may be a means to keep treasures or to curtail invasive plants. That accounts for plenty of smaller pots, mostly of bulbs. Or they are bonsais that we keep as feature plants. That is it. There can be no other reason for containerised plants in my garden. I just don’t think they add very much except work.

It is different in a small garden. If I ever find myself with one, I am sure I will end up with lots of containers for various reasons (though there will not be any in shiny blue). In a small garden, you can usually get the hose to most points for the constant watering required in dry spells. I might even go for growing annuals in pots – these days elevated to the term of “potted colour” in order to sell readymade but short lived flowering options to the customer.

If you are potting quick impact, low value plants, any cheap mix is going to be fine. You can even use garden soil, though this tends to compact and hold too much water. Potting mix was designed for pots and is free draining. But not all potting mixes are equal.

Mark calls it his Forest of Tane though these are Picea orientalis bonsai style in a small stone trough

Mark calls it his Forest of Tane though these are Picea orientalis bonsai style in a small stone trough

When it comes to longer term plants, it is worth the money to buy better quality mixes. The bagged stuff comes with everything added already so all you need to do is to fill around the plants in the pot and note how long the life of the slow release fertiliser is. The information on the bag should tell you. Slow release can be active for anything from three months to a year. Once it has been used up, there is nothing in the mix to feed the plant so you will need to start top dressing. It helps to know when because if the plant turns yellow due to starvation, it can take a while to respond.

The few bonsai type plants we keep in comparatively small containers to restrict growth and dwarf them. They need a mix with a bit more grunt and better water retention than straight granulated bark mix. In this case, we make up our own of 1/3 compost, 1/3 garden soil and 1/3 potting mix.

The other container plants are history. Either they are worth planting out to grow in the garden or they are goners. I do not have time for them any longer.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

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