Go potty over pots

HE great thing about container gardening is that it is so accessible. Anyone can do it, with a minimum of time, space and effort. And the rewards are huge. Whether it is a row of cacti on a windowsill or a jungle on the patio, the contained garden is a decorative delight that brings life to indoor and outdoor living space. A well-chosen pot celebrates its plants and there are endless ways to pull this off to superb effect. In the right container even the most humble plant is revealed in all its unique character and beauty.

SECRETS OF SUCCESS

MAKE A MATCH: Choose containers that are in harmony with the fabric, colour and style of your house. Invest in some large pots with bold, simple outlines — classic or modern, sized to suit the scale of their setting. They will make a valuable impact, in formal pairs or rows or as anchors in an informal group with smaller pots. Plain pots of similar or complementary shapes in different sizes work well in groups.

THINK BIGGISH: Some plants, such as bulbs like agapanthus, cyrtanthus and haemanthus, actually like being confined in pots, growing and blooming happily until they crack their home. On the whole, however, bigger pots are better than smaller ones, especially for seasonal plantings. The roots stay cooler, the soil does not dry as quickly and they allow for a bigger root run and more nutrients. In smaller pots you need to compensate by increasing feeding and watering.

With long-term plants, however, such as shrubs and trees, you need to do what is known as potting on. This is replanting in a larger pot every year or two. If you put a relatively slow-growing plant with a small root ball in a huge pot, the unused compost may go sour or get waterlogged and the roots may rot. So if you have bought a large pot for a major statement, be sure to get a large plant with a sizeable root ball to plant in it.

After that there is no limit to how creative you can be, matching plants to pots and vice versa, using elegant forms and textures of just one or two plants (as in most of our pictures), or mini forests, vegetables, cactus or bulb collections, cottage annuals and even water gardens (but that is another whole article).

WATER WISDOM: If there is one key factor in successful container gardening it has to be water. Good drainage is essential or roots will rot. Make sure your pot has enough drainage holes; flat bottomed pots should be raised on bricks or special pot feet to allow for free drainage. And hold that can – more plants are killed by overwatering than by drought. Some need to be kept gently moist, others like succulents and Mediterranean plants need to dry out between waterings. Invest in a moisture metre, which has a little rod with a sensor that you insert into the soil. This will tell you if you need to water or not. These are available online from Hadeco: www.hadeco.co.za

THE PERFECT POTTING MIX: This will vary from plant to plant, so check individual requirements before you start. Remember that potting soil in bags may not be particularly nourishing; it’s always a good idea to add extra compost. One part river sand, two parts potting soil and one or two parts compost is a good basic mix. Add a general organic fertiliser according to the producer’s instructions. A slow release formula will save you time and ensure your plants get regular nutrition.

Save on watering by adding water-retaining granules of some kind or coir peat, excellent stuff which comes in briquettes which you soak in water and crumble into the potting mix.

PERFECT PLANTING STEP BY STEP

Make sure your pots are clean. Washing them out in a solution of Jeyes fluid is a good way to make sure they are disease free.

Cover the holes with broken crocks, stones, old teabags — anything that will allow the water to drain out but prevent the potting soil from going with it.

Measure the depth of the root ball in the pot and add potting mix up to the base level.

Tease roots out gently and place the plant in the pot.

Pack soil in around the plant or plants and firm down gently.

Water slowly and gently until you see the water flowing out from the base.

Dress the top of the soil with an attractive mulch such as pebbles or grit for succulents, river sand for grasses, bark chips for ferns.

TIPS FOR AN INSTANT LIFTKeep a stack of plain terracotta pots in two or three sizes, say 12cm, 8cm and 6cm diameter pots and four to eight of each, plus plastic pots of similar size that can be slipped inside. Plant the plastic with bulbs, pansy or petunia seedlings, winter kale, herbs or anything in bloom at the nursery, slip them into the terracotta and you’ve got an instant lift for patio, windowsill or any drab spot in the garden – which you can easily change when the flowering season is over. © Home Weekly

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