As part of our ultimate guide to pot plants (both indoor and outdoor) we have compiled some some tips below on how growing healthy pot plants in a variety o containers for the home garden, patio or office.
If you follow a few simple rules you can grow some splendid plants. Most of these methods are appropriate for growing pot plants both inside and out of the home.
In case you have some plants that are not growing well, we have also included a section on problem solving to help you overcome any pot plant growing issues.
Choosing the right plant for patio, home or office
Choosing the right plants for pots is one of the most important issues when setting up your pot garden.
First have a good look at the potential spots you have available to grow your pot plants. Is there enough sun or shade ? Estimate how much light the spot is getting during the day (this is also important for indoor plants). Each plant you choose will have different light requirements.
For example; potted roses generally require a sunny spot and are not suited to shade. Shade loving “Peace lilies” (spathiphyllum) are not suited to sun and prefer shaded indoor or patio settings.
We have created a comprehensive guide to the world of container plants for the home (outside and in) and included information on light requirements for each variety. Please check out part one here and part two here.
There are some plants which can become adapted to either sun or shade, given time. This occurs because the plant changes the internal structure and positioning of the leaf to cope with the available light.
However, it should be noted that this takes time to occur. Plants which have been conditioned to grow indoors cannot be placed straight out into the full sun as they will be seriously damaged by the direct sun light. And conversely plants grown in sun will not normally grow well going straight into indoor light.
When purchasing your pot plant, get the Nursery person to give you a good description of the light conditions that suit the plant you are buying.
Another important issue to think about is the potential size of your pot plants. When growing healthy pot plants you really need to be aware of how the plant will fare in the pot you’ve chosen. So when you buy your plant, ask the nursery salesperson how large the plant will potentially grow in a pot.
Many plants will grow a lot bigger than the pot they start out in and may need to be re-potted to a larger size at some stage.
Take a “Weeping fig” (Ficus benjamina) for example, they can grow into a tree if grown in the ground, but can grow in a pot as small as 20cm wide. Eventually the plant will outgrow the pot or die off.
Many pot plants are actually “dwarfed” (kept small) by growing in small pots, but they still usually have a limited life span. One way to overcome this issue of “size”, is to bonsai your plants. This involves giving them a regular prune to control size. Pruning usually involves trimming the branches, and the roots when re-potting.
Ficus plants are once again a good example of an indoor and patio plant that you can bonsai. This form of bonsai is different to the traditional Japanese form of bonsai. It simply means reducing foliage from time to time and could be done once a year or so to ensure you keep growing healthy pot plants.
Some plants (like palms) cannot be trimmed & grown like a bonsai, but most plants that have branches can. Given the right plant, in the right-sized pot, you can keep all sorts of container plants growing for years and even decades.
Choosing the right pot or container for your plant
An inevitable follow up to the size of your container plants is the type and size of your pot. A large plant in a small pot looks incorrect….. and a small plant in a large pot looks incorrect. It is a case of finding the right balance.
Generally speaking potted plants and indoor plants grow quite slowly, so if you purchase your pot plant at a suitable size to start with, you will not have too many problems in the years to come.
Do not expect your potted plant to suddenly grow to fit your pot, it can take ages in some cases. So, purchase with a number of years in mind, take a Raphis palm for example, they are quite slow growing, so it is better to purchase one that fits and balances with your chosen pot size. It could stay in this pot for 10 years for more.
And when the day comes that your plant looks like it has out-grown your pot, it is time to upgrade to a larger pot.
Upgrading pots shouldn’t be seen as an inconvenience, but rather an opportunity to check your plant over. Much of growing healthy pot plants depends on noticing small changes in colour or growth that may indicate more serious issues.
When moving a plant between containers, be aware of the term “root bound”. Being root bound relates to the roots of a plant becoming intensely bound in the pot.
This can occur to the point where there is little potting mix left in the pot, and the pot is just full of roots. Being “root bound” is not good for your plant and reduces the vigour and eventually the lifespan of the plant. We will talk more on what to do about this in subsequent posts.
When choosing your pots you have a few choices:
1. pots with holes in the base
2. pots with no holes in the base
3. self-watering pots.
Firstly, drainage is very important when it comes to growing healthy pot plants. This means that water does not sit at the base and sodden the potting mix. So if you have an outdoor situation make sure you choose pots with holes in the base.
You may like to use a saucer for your pot to catch any excess water. Saucers can be quite handy as during hot periods they hold the water, which can be drawn up again by the plant.
However, during the winter months it can be a bit of a problem as the excess water just sits there and soaks the potting mix. So, it may be worth removing the saucer in rainy months and placing it back in summer.
You can buy pots with no holes in the base and most of these are for indoor use, but generally you will find they create more problems. Because the water cannot drain, the water sits at the base and goes stale. This is not great for growing healthy pot plants.
Apart from the fact that the plant roots will be sitting in water, the water can smell after a while. To overcome this, you will need to be very careful of how much water you give your plants. It requires a sensitive touch to only give the plant just enough water and not too much or too little.
The best “easy care” pot system are the self-watering pots. They are a great invention and can save considerable time.
Self-watering pots are preferred by the indoor plant professionals. Self-watering pots are generally made of plastic and have a reserve of water which is held by a tank at the base of the pot.
The water is drawn up by a wick of material or soil and drawn into the potting mix. This occurs by a natural process known as “capillary action”, the water is drawn right up through the potting mix. Self-watering pots are available for indoor and outdoor use. They have become very popular and have dropped in price greatly over the years.
If you are new to nurturing potted plants at home, they provide an ideal way to get started with growing healthy pot plants.
Self-watering pots are available in all sizes from very small table top pots to massive 100lt pots. Self-watering pots are best used in indoor or covered patio situations. There are some which are also suited to outdoor use they normally have a small overflow slot on the side of the pot which releases excess water if it rains.
For information and prices on a range of self watering pots and planters, see here.
Choose a good potting mix for your pot plants
Using a good potting mix makes all the difference when growing healthy pot plants. Not only will the plant grow much better and look more attractive, it will last in the same pot much longer.
When you consider that you may keep your plant in the same pot for years and years, you can appreciate that the potting mix must be of good quality.
A superior potting mix increases the health of your plant and reduces the chance of insect attack as a result. Healthy plants get fewer pests.
A great innovation in recent years is the development of potting mixes designed specifically for indoor plants, patio plants or outdoor plants.
Depending on where you grow your pot plants you will need to use a different type of potting mix. Indoor plants require a light, free draining mix that holds moisture.
Patio potting mixes tend to be slightly better drained than indoor mixes, but still hold good moisture.
Outdoor potting mixes are very well drained and hold less moisture, this is due to the fact that the potting mix is exposed to natural rainfall.
Before you purchase your potting mix explain to the nursery salesperson what type of plant you will be growing and where it will be growing. They will then be able to give you the best potting mix for your needs.