2fdd78898baecc9302eb913e4ee1e8a1

Growing plants in containers has never been more popular. It couldn’t be easier, right?

Just put some pebbles in the bottom of the pot, pour in the potting soil, add the plants and you’re done; right? Well, that’s not exactly how expert gardeners go about it.

Here are a few tips that I and many others practice when dealing with potted plants in their own gardens. Perhaps these techniques will help you be an even better gardener.

Drainage, Drainage, Drainage

If you read two sentences into any plant caresheet, review the cultural information in a reference book or get advice from any expert, the word “drainage” will surely come up. Good drainage simply means that water should move through the soil, from top to bottom and out of the root zone quickly. It doesn’t have anything to do with how often to water, just what should happen to the water once it hits the soil. Tropical plants, succulents, citrus, native plants, camellias and the huge majority of other plants, thirsty or not, want good drainage.

pots

I’ve potted thousands of plants and one thing I always add to my potting soil is extra pumice. I purchase pumice every time I purchase my potting soil. Looking out the window, right now I have three two cubic foot bags of potting soil stacked outside, along with three 1 cubic foot bags of pumice. That’s about the right ratio. When potting almost any plant I blend about one part of the white, rocky, pumice to three parts potting soil. I’ll add even more pumice to plants that want especially good drainage; plants like natives, most succulents, potted bulbs and many Mediterranean species. Since these are many of the species I especially enjoy, I use a lot of pumice.

So, if expert gardeners almost always add pumice to their potting soil, why don’t the potting soil companies makes things easier and just add it for us? Well, they do sort of; it’s called Cactus Mix. But most people who buy potting soil are simply casual gardeners and don’t really understand the importance of drainage. Adding pumice to potting soils would raise the cost of the soil to the point where the average shopper will think they are over paying. Pumice is also about twice the weight of potting soil, so the bag would weigh more, a discouragement to most customers. Finally, when the bag is opened it is going to look different. It’s not the dark, rich brown appearance that most people expect from a bag of potting soil.

In the meantime, I just blend some pumice into the potting soil myself. It’s easy enough.

On the Rocks or Bottom’s Up?

There’s a lingering misconception that adding sand, gravel, stones, broken pottery or another coarse material to the bottom of a pot, before soil is added, is somehow a good idea. It’s not.

As mentioned, drainage is a key to success with potted plants, and gardeners certainly don’t want the bottom portion of a potted plant to become waterlogged, so this sounds at first like a good idea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. It is simple hydrology; water does not pass freely from one soil texture to another. In fact, adding anything to the bottom few inches of your pot is a very bad idea, actually reducing your soil drainage, not improving it. It’s ok to put a nylon piece of screen or a pinch of sphagnum moss over the drain hole first to keep the soil in, but then just fill your pot with soil mix from top to bottom – no rocks please.

Refresh and Repot

Soil decomposes. It breaks down in the ground; that’s one of the reasons surface mulching is so important. But soil certainly breaks down in pots as well. That rich, porous, well aerated soil that you started with a couple of years ago will decompose into something much more dense, collapsing the air pockets and slowing down the ever important drainage that we keep talking about. Some potting soils break down faster than others, especially those with a high percentage of forest compost, wood shavings or other organic ingredients. Mineral components, like pumice, coarse sand and perlite, don’t break down very fast. This is another reason that experts and hobbyists add pumice to their potting mixes, extending their lifespan.

To offset decomposition of a soil, potted plants, especially large ones, should be re-potted every once in a while. I periodically go through all my medium to large potted plants, tip them over and check the soil. If the mix has broken down considerably and especially if it has become mushy or slimy I’ll do a re-potting, often back into the same pot. To perform this revitalizing chore, just knock off the outside couple of inches of old potting soil, both on the edge and at the bottom. Dispose of this old decomposing soil and replace the space with a fresh layer of soil mix as described above. Your plants will be revitalized.

rvanderhoff

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar and his profile can be seen by clicking the "About the Author" link below.

Questions from Readers April 30.

My new nectarine has a disease called Peach Leaf Curl. A bought it dormant. Did it have the disease when I bought it and how should I treat it?

Pat, Costa Mesa

Answer:

This is a very common disease of both peaches and nectarines. You’ll never know how the infection arrived, but sooner or later you would probably see it anyway. Peach Leaf Curl is easily identified by puckered, curled and distorted new spring growth. These leaves will eventually fall off and be replaced by more normal leaves, but the issue will return again next spring and get progressively worse. Treatment is done during the winter dormant season only, so make a note on your calendar. You will be applying a copper ammonium product, usually a brand called Liqui-Cop. Follow label directions and make two applications, one about New Year’s and the other just before the flowers open, usually about mid February.

Assembly_7-24-10_4

Plant Care Reminders

Cauliflower Plant Care
Edibles San Diego Seed Company

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!
Platycerium Monthly Plant Care
Ferns Walter Andersen Nursery

Platycerium bifurcatum (Stag Horn Ferns) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Peach (Prunus persica) - Monthly Plant…

6878 Coastal Sage Gardening
Peach Monthly Plant Care
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Poinsettia Pointers

74731 Ron Vanderhoff
Poinsettia tips
Last year, about 41 million poinsettias were sold in the United States.

Aeonium spp (Aeonium) - Monthly Plant…

13600 Solana Succulents
Aeonium Monthly Plant Care
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Gardening Articles

Pat Hammer
Expert Bios Pat Hammer

Pat Hammer - Southwest

Region: Southwest
Lady Bug Eating Aphids

Life and Death Struggles at play in your Garden

Not long ago gardeners seemed to spend as much time controlling pests as they did any other garden activity.

Tom Piergrossi - Southwest

18830
Tom Piergrossi
Region: Southwest

APLD Annual International Landscape Design Awards Program Winners

19222
APLD
Association of Professional Landscape Designers Announces Annual International Landscape…

Plant a Native Wildflower Garden

16199
Phacelia campanularia
Spring used to mean wildflowers. I remember, as a young boy, exploring the hills around…

Plant Recommendations

Vinca minor
Plant Recommendations Carole Brown

Plants From Hell! - Southern California

Carole Brown's Top Plant Recommendations: Plants from Hell! (not really recommendations)
Quercus agrifolia

California Native Trees - Southern California

Greg Rubin's Top Plant Recommendation: Favorite California Native Trees.

Roses - Southern California

8390 evelyn alemanni
Graham Thomas Rose
Evelyn Alemanni's Top Plant Recommendation: Favorite Roses for Southern California. 

Trees - South East England

7707 Linsey Evans
Albizia julibrissin
Linsey Evans' Top Plant Recommendations: Favorite Trees for South East England.

Less Common Southern Fruits

18852 Kate Copsey
Uncommon southern fruits
When people in the south think of growing fruit, the first one that comes to mind is…

Featured Plant Care

Brugmansia Monthly Plant Care

Brugmansia spp. (Angel Trumpet) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!
Green Bean Monthly Plant Care - photo by Burpee

Bean - Green (Phaseolus vulgaris) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

in Edibles
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!
Edible Sage Monthly Plant Care

Sage - Common Edible (Salvia officinalis) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

in Herbs
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!
Hong Kong Orchid Monthly Plant Care

Bauhinia x blakeana 'Hong Kong' (Hong Kong Orchid Tree) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

in Trees
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Latest Articles

Peach Leaf Curl

Peach Leaf Curl - Information Hub

Peach leaf curl is a common problem found on leaves of Peaches and Nectarines (and their…
Avocado Information Hub

Avocado - Growing and Plant Care Information Hub

in Edibles
We're bringing relevant information about Avocados (Persea americana) to one fantastic…

Popular Articles

Using the Mulch for Home Gardeners

Home Gardener: Using All The Great Features on the Mulch

You Can Use The Great Features on the Mulch For Free!
Baseball Field Maintenance

Baseball Field Maintenance - A General Guide for Fields of All Levels

in Lawn
More great baseball field resources can be found here (including a pdf version of this…
Queen Palm Care & Use

The Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) Care & Use

in Trees
Jungle Music Palms and Cycads is a family owned and operated business established in 1977
Microgreens

What are Microgreens and How to Grow Them

in Edibles
Microgreens are tiny leafed vegetables that are grown from seed and require very little…

User Guides (Slide)

Popular Recommendations (Slide)

Upcoming Events

View All Events

Who's Online

We have 1843 guests and no members online