Plants in different types of containers.

How to Choose the Right Container for Your Plants

Most houseplants are grown at the nursery in plastic pots. While these are both prac­tical and convenient for growing and watering, they do not look attractive in the home. Fortunately, there are a great many decorative flowerpots and containers available to disguise, or replace, j’oui plastic pot.

Plastic pots have drainage holes in the bottom that allow excess water to drain away, and are therefore unsuitable for use indoors where water seeping from the pot can damage polished surfaces. The first consideration must be a saucer or drip tray under the pot to collect excess water.

Remember that your plant must not be allowed to sit in a saucer of water because this is when water­logging occurs, which can rot the roots and lead, eventually, to plant death. Although saucers are a practical method of collecting excess water, they are hardly decorative. Indeed, there is nothing worse than a sad-looking plant sitting on a windowsill with a chipped saucer underneath — this does not make the most attractive display.

One way to get around the pot and saucer prob­lem is to place the plastic pot in a pot holder or cachepot. These come in all shapes and sizes and can be made of pottery, china, wicker, tin, or metal. Before you rush out and buy new containers, take a look around the home and see if there are any suit­able receptacles that you could adapt for house- plants. Household items, such as enamel buckets, copper bowls, wastepaper cans, and log baskets, all make excellent and unusual containers, as do coffee mugs, casserole dishes, or a pretty vegetable dish that has lost its lid.

A set of matching ceramic pitchers with necks wide enough to accommodate a plastic pot makes a great way to display similar plants. The color of the container must complement the plants and not compete with them. A highly deco rated pot in bright colors, for example, would com­pletely overwhelm a delicate flowering plant. While a white container may seem like a safe option, this will contrast sharply with the foliage and draw attention away from the plant.

The container must be the right size for the plastic flowerpot, which should sit easily inside with the rim hidden. If the plastic surround is still visible, either repot your plant into a smaller container or cover the surface of the potting soil, including the rim of the container, with fresh moss, which will also conserve moisture and pro­vide humidity for the plant.

It is possible to create a really stylish container by painting an old basket or aluminum container to match the flowering plant you have chosen. The easiest method to transform containers is to use spray paints, which come in just about any color of the rainbow. A good tip to remember when spray­ing anything is to put the object inside a large card­board box to protect the surrounding area. Spray outdoors and wear a mask to protect your face and lungs.

Try planting a group of grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) in a blue-painted aluminum bucket, or arrange a row of dwarf daffodils (such as Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’) on a kitchen windowsill in individual clay pots that have been painted yellow.

If you can’t find a container that will accommodate your plastic flowerpot, you can always grow the plant directly in its decorative container. However, you must make sure that this container is completely waterproof — if it is cracked or porous, you will need to line it first with heavy-duty plas­tic; a garbage bag is ideal.

If there are no drainage holes in the base of the container, or if it is lined with plastic, make sure you don’t overwater the plants because the soil mix will quickly become sodden and sour, causing the plant’s roots to rot. To encourage drainage, cover the base of the pot with pieces of crockery shards (from a broken clay pot) before you add the potting soil.

Repotting your plant into a clay pot and then painting the pot a single color, or stenciling i to match your interior, makes an attractive way to display your houseplants. The Victorian-style, straight-sided clay pots, known as “long Toms,’ make charming and simple plant containers. If you don’t like the bright reddish-brown of new clay, you can age or distress it. To speed up the aging- process, you can paint the outside with cultured yogurt and leave the pot outside in the garden for a couple of weeks. This technique will soon get rid of that newly bought look.

Miniature containers

top shelf Miniature plants that are popular in garden centers need attractive containers to set them off to their best advantage. Many household containers, such as china egg cups and small cups or mugs, make charming plant holders — especially ij the decoration matches the color of the plant — but it is also possible to find more unusual containers at flea markets or secondhand stores.

Glass vases and bottles

middle shelf Removing the plant from its plastic pot and planting it in a glass container is an unusual but very attractive way to display a plant. However, due to the transparent nature of most glass vases, it is important to disguise the root ball of the plant, by lining the pot first with either fresh moss, or clear glass marbles sold especially for the purpose.

If you are planting spring bulbs in this way, first remove as much soil as possible from around the root ball., then hold the bulb upright in the container while you add the moist gravel. The bulb will be hidden completely by the stones and the flowers will look as if they are growing directly out of the stones. An attractive method of displaying hyacinths is to place them in special glass pots filled with water. The neck of the pot supports the bulb and the roots draw up water from below.

Ceramic pots and dishes

bottom shelf China and ceramic cachepots are the most popular type of container, and there is a vast selection on display at garden centers. Bear in mind that a highly decorated china container will overwhelm most pot plants, so it is best to go for neutral blues, creams, or greens that harmonize with the display rather than contrast with it too sharply. Bold stripes and colors may enhance the strong lines of an architectural plant, but they will certainly distract the attention from delicate leaves or flowers.

Wicker baskets

The natural quality of wicker combines well with many houseplants. Baskets lined with plastic are widely available from garden centers and specialty stores, but if you have an old basket at home that you particularly like, it is easy to transform it into a suitable plant holder. Simply cut a piece of thick plastic from a garbage bag — black plastic is best because it does not show through the wicker — trim it to the correct size and put it inside the basket so that the plastic ends just below the rim. You can now either place the plastic plant pot inside the basket, or take the plants out of their pots and plant them directly in the basket, adding extra potting soil if necessary and finishing with a layer of fresh soil.

Metal buckets, baskets, and bowls

Metal containers range from metal buckets, cast-iron cooking pots, baking pans, enamel pitchers, and wire baskets to the humble tin can that can be covered with moss or painted a suitable color. An old-fashioned metal washtub makes an ideal container because it has a flat bottom that can accommodate lots of plants side by side to create a magnificent grouped display. A tall florists’ bucket, on the other hand, is useful for displaying a single bushy or trailing plant, whose leaves can cascade over the sides. If you don’t like the reflective quality of brand new tin, you could try painting it with turquoise acrylic paint to imitate the attractive patina of verdigris.

Clay pots

Clay is a very sympathetic material for plant pots and there are many different sizes and styles —from straight-sided pots known as “long Toms” to those with fluted edges or relief patterns. Basic clay pots are probably the cheapest kind of container you can buy to display your houseplants. However, most of them have drainage holes in the base, which means that you must place them on a saucer to collect excess water. In practical terms, plants displayed in clay pots will dry out rapidly, because moisture is lost through the sides of the container as well as through the soil mix. To cut down on moisture loss, soak new clay pots in water for at least an hour before use.

Wooden tubs, trays, and window boxes

Wood is a versatile material that suits both modern and. rustic settings. Containers range from large, ornate tubs that look attractive placed on either side of a doorway, to wooden garden baskets, window boxes, and even empty seed trays that can be filled with low-level plants for an informal display.

The main drawback of wooden containers is that, they are porous, which means you should either treat, them with a horticulturally safe wood preservative before using them, or line them with a strong plastic liner to collect excess water. Alternatively, you can simply place the plastic plant pot inside the container and use a drip tray underneath.

Gardening tools and gear sitting in the grass.

What Gardening Tools You Need to Buy to Take Care of Your Plants

From the moment you purchase your first plant, the business of acquiring equipment begins whether it remains fairly basic or progresses ta the level required by the dedicated collector. Most garden centers sell a bewildering array of tools and equipment, most of which falls into the “nice to have,” rather than “need to have” category, although there are certain items that are important.

The essentials include: a clean, sharp pair of primers for pruning and propagation; a mis­ter for increasing humidity; a watering can with a long spout to reach through the foliage of the plant directly to the soil; a dibble for when the plant is young, and a gardener’s trowel for later on; a measuring jug for mixing fertilizer or chemical treatments; and labels to identify each plant.

Tools do not have to be bought, they can be improvised from the home. Cutlery is always useful, and can be attached to short canes with string or insulating tape for dealing with plants in a tall bottle garden. The main rule is to keep all your equipment clean to prevent cross-infection.

Basic Equipment

This is a range of equipment used in the care and maintenance of indoor plants, ad various stages in their lives. The better the quality, the longer the tools will last: sieve, knife, scissors, pruners, pliers, plastic labels, dibble, fork, trowel, mister, thermometer, watering can, measuring jug, funnel.

For dealing with small, plants and containers, it is easier to use scaled-down tool such as these, which allow detailed work without causing damage to the stems or roots: scissors, rake, trowels.

Propagation Equipment

Growing plants from seeds or cuttings needs only a little extra equipment and is very satisfying. You will be needing the following: plastic bag, widger, cell pack, tray, plastic labels, small jar, rooting hormone, pencil, propagator.

Many plants can be grown from seed or cuttings using this equipment, although some will respond better if they are given a little extra warmth in the early stages in a propagation case with heating cables laid in. The propagator and plastic bag both serve to keep the humidity high around the plants, reducing stress and speeding up rooting.

Sowing seed in cell-packs rather than trays takes up more room, but eliminates the need for transplanting. This means that there is no check in growth, producing a larger plant more quickly, and is particularly suitable for larger, easy-to-handle seeds. When seedlings need to be transplanted, the widger can be used to ease them out of the soil by levering beneath the roots to cause as little damage as possible. They can then be planted in the new soil mix using a dibble to make the hole and then firmed in.

Stacking Equipment

Canes, ties, wire, plant rings, raffia and string are all used to encourage a plant to grow in a specific direction.

Staking plants is often part of their training, to encourage them to grow straight. However, it can be used on indoor plants to alter their natural growth habit — if, for example, you want to train a trailing or climbing plant to grow as a pillar or ball.

When the plant is young and growing quickly, its stake will need replacing regularly to keep it growing correctly. Bamboo canes are cheap and convenient at this stage, and can be used together with string, wire, metal rings, twine, or ties (covered in either paper or plastic) to hold the stems in place. As the plant grows, the support can be changed to a more ornamental one. Keep a close watch on the ties, particularly metal ones that have no flexibility — if they become too tight, they will bite into the stem and constrict it. Each time the stake is replaced, the ties should be changed.

Old plant pots pilled up together.

How to Take Care of Plant Containers

Containers should last for many years, provided they are well cared for and not damaged in any way. If they have been used before, it is important to clean them thoroughly to prevent the spread of disease.

Preparing and maintaining containers

New clay pots should be soaked in water for at least an hour before use, so that they do not draw mois­ture away from the soil. However, as they age, they gain an attractive outer coating of green moss, which blends the pots into the greenery around them.

“Use a dry, stiff brush to get rid of loose soil and old roots. Scrub the pot in warm, soapy water to make sure that it is thoroughly clean.

It is not necessary to remove this when the pot is cleaned, but it is important to clean the inside. Metal containers should be lined with plastic to pre­vent their minerals contaminating the growing medium. Wooden containers can also be lined with plastic to stop the wood rotting. In each case, holes need to be made in the base to allow drainage.

Care of heavy containers

If you have the space, a large container adds impact and interest, but it presents its own set of problems if it needs to be moved.

Although few indoor plants should have a problem with low temperatures during the winter, those in an unheated conservatory or sunroom, or on a porch, may feel the cold. The result of exposure to low temperatures varies according to how cold the plant becomes, and for how long, but at its extreme, cold kills the plant.

“Heavy containers can be moved using pieces of metal pipe as rollers under a board Move the board by taking the front roller to the back. Repeat this action.”

A small electric space heater is one way of keeping the temperature above freezing if the plants cannot be brought indoors. Alternatively, plastic bubble wrap or burlap can be tied around both the plant and its container as temporary protection during very low temperatures, but it will need to be removed as soon as feasible, or the plant will suffer from lack of light and air.

Repositioning a large container presents its own set of problems because once it is planted and watered, it can weigh a great deal. Even a medium-size container can weigh up to 20 lb. (9 kg) when moistened, and this amount of weight can cause injury if not handled properly. The easiest way to move a heavy pot is to maneuver it onto a board and then use metal pipes as rollers underneath. Lighter pots can be moved by dragging them on a piece of burlap.

Stakes and supports for garden plants.

How to Use Stakes and Supports

In the wild, climbing plants rely on each other for support. However, indoors — where they are often grown as individual specimens — a sup­port of some description must be provided. Stakes and supports should enhance the appearance of the plant, which often means choosing ones that are as unobtrusive as possible.

Using a frame to support a climbing plant not only allows t to be trained to grow in a certain direction, but it takes the strain off the stems, reduces stress, and allows it to concentrate its ener­gies on growing and flowering. It holds the plant firmly in place, reduces the chance of it falling over, and can be used to increase the air-flow between the stems, thereby lowering the chance of an attack by fungal disease.

Types of support

The type of support used should be chosen to suit both the plant and its situation. Supports are avail­able in a wide variety of materials, including bamboo, plastic, metal, and wood, or as raffia or moss-filled poles. In an ornamental situation, the support can be of an ornate design, or it can be painted to complement the surroundings. In a tem­porary or purely functional situation, however, plain bamboo canes may be all that are needed.

Using the support

Whichever means of support you choose, make sure it is firmly anchored in the container so that there is no possibility of the plant pulling it down! as it grows. This means that wall supports must be fixed securely to the wall with several heavy-duty screws or nails, and pot-held frames must be pushed down well into the soil. In a pot, the overall] height of the support must also be taken into con­sideration, since a growing plant could make it top- heavy, causing it to fall over.

Plant growing on a moss pole.

How to Use a Moss Pole

Plants that produce aerial roots and enjoy a humid environment will thrive against a moist moss pole. As the plants grow, the pole becomes completely covered in lush, healthy foliage.

Many plants grow in the wild by means of aerial roots, which anchor themselves into moist crevices in the surrounding rocks and trees. Without this moisture, the roots shrivel and die, and the plant’s support is lost. Indoors, this environment can be recreat­ed using moist sphagnum moss, either wired around a cane or packed inside a wire tube.

The moss must form a continuous col­umn, which can draw moisture up from the soil, because if there is a break in the column, the upper moss will dry out. It will also benefit from being sprayed regularly using a mister, as this will prevent it taking up moisture from the soil, leaving more water for the roots. The stems are held against the pole by wrap­ping twine around them or using small wire hoops to hold them in place.

  • Cut wire for the tube. Keep it in proportion to the plant and pot.
  • Wrap it into a tube shape and bend the ends over to hold it closed.
  • Use a short cane to push the moist sphag­num moss firmly down inside the tube.
  • Put crockery shards and growing medium in the pot, then position the pole inside.
  • Space the plants evenly around the pole, fill in with potting soil and mist thoroughly.