Take it or Leaf it: Advice on Plants in Pots

Plants, like people, are tough. Both can adapt to a wide range of living conditions. Though plants thrive naturally outdoors where they can spread their roots in the ground, they can also survive in many other situations, such as in pots. If you have shied away from planting in pots, read on. Here’s a primer on the benefits of putting plants in pots along with a new take how to do it.

Why Put Plants in Pots?

Plants in pots provide tremendous flexibility for your lifestyle. Do you live in an apartment or small home? Potted plants are great for small spaces. They are one of the best ways to bring nature indoors which also has a health benefit! Pants make our air cleaner by providing oxygen and reducing airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) significantly.

Potted plants can hang from the ceiling, sit on windowsills, or on plant racks. Racks, especially, add new and visually compelling details to your home’s space. Think not only of the living room, but imagine what plants in pots can add to a bathroom (love that humidity!), bedroom, or study.

Do you have a deck or a flowerbed in the yard that you want to dress up? In the yard, plants in pots add height and color to the landscape. They create dimensionality and the opportunity to define the space. Consider your front door. Potted plants direct the eye of the visitor to the entrance of you home, making it more welcoming and attractive. On the deck, plants in pots can take up as much or as little space as you want, depending upon the size and arrangement of pots. See Image 1. Conversely, don’t add too many or your space may look cluttered.

Winter annuals
Image 1: Plants in pots bring color and variety to a small space or, conversely, fill space that needs that extra “something.”

Do you have a problem with critters that graze on the plantings in your yard? Plants in pots are a solution to deer problems. Put them on the deck! Hostas, knock-out roses, and flowering plants from bulbs and pansies are just some of deer’s favorites. So, rather that planting them in the yard, plan and plant them in pots for the deck. An internet search on “plants that deer like to eat” results in plenty of websites with ideas for plants that can be put on the deck for your furry friends and foes.

Do you want to have a cooking garden but don’t have the space? Herbs and veggies can be raised in pots so that they are closer to the kitchen. How convenient for care and harvesting! Make an arrangement of them outside the backdoor or on the deck where they are just steps away from your cooking area. As with all plants, placement is important to their success. Most vegetables and herbs thrive in full sun, so make sure that if they are by the door or under the eaves, they still receive the sunlight they need.

Here are some pretty examples of the outdoor containers displayed during the winter holidays at the Botanical Gardens. I love the bigger one in the back. Tall wispy branches from curly willow trees add height, interest and unexpected quirkiness to the lush greenery. Cuttings from tall, dried grasses can also add whimsy to a container planting.

Busting a Myth about Plants in Pots

You might be surprised how water works inside a pot.

To pot your plants, start with a layer of gravel, add soil, and maybe add a cover of mulch. That’s how we all do it, right? Well, not according to Danny Lipford of Today’s Homeowner. He argues two things.

  1. Gravel takes up valuable space in the pot, which could be better filled with more soil. Soil is what plants love, not gravel.
  2. By taking up that space in the pot, gravel raises the location of the water in the lower area of the soil. This higher water level results in plants with “wet feet.”

One of the reasons Lipford argues this has to do with PWT, an amazing fact of life.  PWT stands for Perched Water Table. See Image 2). “This is water that occupies a layer of soil that is always saturated and will not drain at the bottom of the pot. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will equal the [pull of gravity]; therefore, the water does not drain, it is “perched”.”

Image 2: The PWT explains the phenomena that no matter the size of the pot, the water level will always be the same.

Following along with Lipford’s idea of not using gravel in the bottom of the pot, you will need to use very well-draining soil. Do not scrimp and use cheap soil. Mix perlite or organic matter into the potting soil to increase drainage throughout the pot.

A small layer of gravel or pottery shards at the bottom of the pot is okay, as it can help with keeping whatever water reaches the bottom of the pot from flowing out. A layer of mulch on top keeps the soil moist and provides visual uniformity.

We at Art of Stone Gardening can work with you to make a bold statement or add an artistic touch with potted plants. We can give you advice on plants, location and even how to fill the pots. Consider what we found when working with one client: they had filled up their pot with wine bottles, which we found when cleaning out the pot. To each their own!

Succulent Container

This blog has more examples of some planters I have designed.

Happy planting!

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