The last few weeks I have been going potty. I’ve been deciding when to pot and when to plant?
My garden is going through a bit of transition this year, and we have plans to overhaul most of it. So it is not a good time for me to plant anything into the ground, as it may have to be moved again within a short time.
I need my green, so pots that have otherwise remained stacked for years, are now in use. I had forgotten how much I love gardening in pots, and how you can achieve quite a productive garden even in a small space.
Some plants actually do much better in pots than in the garden beds, So today, I have a look at the best cases for potting, or planting!
When to Pot
If you are in transition like me, or renting, or have some temporary situation, of course, pots make sense as they can up and move with you. You can find some great pots at your local recycling centre, online classifieds or flea markets. Tubs like these ones from the hardware store are cheap, make great planters for larger trees, and they have handles! Just drill some holes for drainage before planting.
A few years ago, a big storm hit and the neighbour’s trampoline from two doors down took flight and sailed into one of the lime trees before landing on our roof.
The cut was pretty deep, and I was concerned it had the potential to kill the tree, so for a while, the citrus recovered in a pot in my greenhouse, getting extra doses of water, worm wee, away from harsh sun and wind. As soon as the tree recovered, and it’s wound healed, I planted it back in the garden where it has thrived ever since.
Control the Soil
I love blueberries, but the minute I plant one into my sandy, alkaline soil, they are doomed.
Blueberries like acidic soils, so they simply are not compatible with my alkaline, poor soil.
Sure, I could try and improve the soil I have, but only an act of alchemical wizardry will change sandy soil into the kind of dirt that blueberries love.
So for me, blueberries go in pots with special potting mix. Plus, when they go dormant over winter, they can be moved to a less conspicuous spot.
Control the Water
The wind and heat can draw a lot of moisture from a plant. Thirsty plants, like mints, herbs and annuals love a good drink.
I use closed, non-draining pots for my thirsty herbs. I also use self-watering pots for annuals that I want to grow in pots.
Left in the ground, these plants will struggle to get a decent drink from my sandy soil, often requiring watering twice a day in the warmer months.
Annuals and Short-Lived Plants
Annuals can have a short, sweet life and pots can be a great way to cultivate them. Chillis, tomatoes, lettuce, tomatillos, rosella, all look fantastic in pots and grow well. Plus when their short season is over, the pot can be repurposed and the soil returned to the compost.
Deciduous plants are dormant in the winter months. Typically, they use their foliage, and look as if they have died! Plus, you need to tread delicately and not disturb their roots as they rest.
I have two caper bushes that have thrived planted in one of my raised beds, but they will be coming out at the end of the season and transplanted into pots.
The caper’s dormancy in the raised beds is a little problematic as they are taking up space resting, and I can’t plant anything in that space in the meantime. I am going to transplant them into terracotta pots that can be moved to the back of the garden when they have their seasonal rest.
Oh how I wish the person a few houses down had decided to plant their Morning Glory vine in a large tub! Instead, it was planted in the ground and the vine has spread, suckering every chance it gets and downing two fences with its weight. It’s a menace!
Similarly, you might love mint, but get frustrated fast as it takes over a garden bed. It will thrive just as well, contained in a pot.
Fennel once threatened to take over my garden, and with its huge roots, was difficult to remove. If I ever plant fennel again (I’m still getting over it) yes, it’s going in a pot.
Some plants (like people) need strong boundaries!
After years of growing potatoes in garden beds, last year I grew them in a potato grow-bag and I will do so from now on! They were so easy to grow, as I layered soil every week into the bag.
At harvest time, I simply tipped out the bag, brushed off the potatoes and the remaining soil went into my compost tumbler, to be re-nourished and reused.
The same bag can be used for Jerusalem artichokes and sweet potatoes.
Growing in a bag ensures that all tubers are accounted for! I would always think I had harvested the last potato, or tuber until they would inevitably pop u the next season. While this isn’t always such a bad thing, I like to rotate my potato plantings to avoid repeat pests or virus.
When to Plant
You need to know your soil and conditions very well before you plant in the earth! It’s a big commitment.
I have made plenty of mistakes before.
I planted a mini-orchard of apples, pears, nectarines, plums and peaches, but I ended up removing all of them as they floundered. They are now thriving in much more protected spaces at my Dad’s house!
Plants that are grown as windbreaks, shelter or hedges really should be planted directly in the ground.
The challenge then, is finding the right plant for your climate.
As part of my garden makeover, the hedge of elderflower we planted to shield an unsightly fence will be replaced with carob bushes. While the elderflower grew fast, it drops all its leaves with the slightest touch of heat or wind.
While elderflower looks great in the winter and spring, for the other half of the year, it looks downright scruffy.
The carob bushes we planted, look great year round, and although slower growing, in the long term, they are the better choice.
You could grow a globe artichoke in a pot, but it prefers to sprawl and stretch itself in a garden bed. Same goes for watermelons, pumpkins, zucchinis, cape gooseberries, grapes, passionfruit, cucumbers, beans and luffas to name a few. They need space and don’t tend to perform as well in pots unless provided a sturdy trellis.
Evergreen perennial plants are great in the ground, provided of course, that they are compatible with your growing conditions.
I have a dedicated asparagus patch, each year, the crowns grow and multiply. It is worth cultivating this dedicated patch of earth as I know that the asparagus will return, every year, for the next 20 years.
Plus, asparagus crowns don’t mind being interplanted with parsley, basil, nasturtiums and lettuces, so as they rest during their dormant period, they are not taking up valuable garden real estate!
Stawberries are another plant that go well in the bed. Strawberries typically produce reliably for 4-5 years, but in that time, they will produce runners from the main plant. Cultivating a dedicated strawberry patch, should last you a lifetime.
A lone strawberry plant in a pot (trimmed of its runners) will only last a few years.
I know, I put deciduous pots in the pot category too! But there are times a deciduous plant is super-useful in the ground.
I have a large fig tree planted by my study window. (My Dad thinks it is too close!) It has an important job, other than delivering delicuous, sweet fruit.
In the summer, its sprawling foliage shades my office window, absorbs the heat and keeps me cool. Before it was there, the afternoon sun came in through the window at the perfect angle to skewer my eyeball with a laser-intensity blast of sunshine that made working at my desk impossible.
In the winter, the fig tree loses its leaves and the sunshine warms my cold office.
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So, what about your garden? What do you like to pot? What do you like to plant directly?
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