African Garden + work

from the Secrets of a Plantaholic file

So you went to a plant sale or a garden center and came back with more plants than you intended, more plants than you currently have a place prepared. Maybe you need to move something to make space for that new woody plant, and the plant you have to move is still blooming. Or maybe you just have so much to plant that you can't get it all in the ground right away. It's best to get things planted immediately, but if you can't, don't just leave that woody plant in its original container. It's time to pot up.
By moving that woody plant into a larger container, you've bought yourself a couple of months of extra time to get that plant into the ground before it starts to decline. I'll be doing that with some of the woody plants I purchased at the Morton Arboretum sale last week. I know it will work, as I did the same thing with an Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey') I purchased at the arboretum sale in April 2008. After keeping it well watered all summer, I planted it in September 2008. This is how it looks now.

(It would have looked even better had the deer not munched on it last winter.)
This Daphne I received mailorder from Arrowhead Alpines last year was in an appropriately sized container when it arrived and in good condition. I could have planted it immediately, but it was so small, I was afraid it would be dug up by the squirrels, or eaten to nothing by the deer, so I decided to pot it up to bulk it up before planting it in the ground last fall to increase its chances of survival.

On the right is the original pot, on the left, a pot one size larger.
Here's how it looks today.

I must confess, I kept a wire basket over it all winter to protect it from the deer.
While I had a good experience with my Daphne, buying woody plants (or any plant for that matter) in a container is the ultimate in caveat emptor (as my old Contracts professor would call it), that handy Latin phrase for buyer beware. We all know enough now to check to see if a plant is potbound. We look for extra roots hanging out of the bottom, or a congested knot of roots on the top. But even a plant that looks good in the pot may not be. This Hosta is a great example. (The Caryopteris below would have been better, but I forgot to take photos before I finished with it.) Looks good right? (Except for the minor frost damage on some of the leaves)

But when I pulled it out, half the soil stayed in the pot, revealing a plant that was recently moved from a small container into this larger one.

(Sorry about the poor image quality, but you get the idea.) That would be okay, if it had been properly potted up, but it wasn't, as I discovered when I began to remove the potting soil.

It appears that the plant was slightly potbound, but instead of untangling the roots, whoever potted this up merely stuffed it into a larger pot. The long roots were circled in on each other. Below is the result after I untangled all the roots and spread them out.

This is why it's a good idea to bareroot all potted plants, woodies, perennials and annuals.
The container in which I bought the Hosta might have been a good size, but with this Caryopteris I just purchased at the sale, the original container was woefully inadequate.

On the right, the original container. On the left, a container sufficient to straighten out the roots and allow them some room to grow, the size of container into which this plant should have been moved. It will now be fine until I can get it into the ground.
So here are the three secrets:

  • Always bareroot plants from containers
  • If you can't plant a woody plant immediately, for whatever reason (no place, plant is too small), pot it up in a larger container
  • Choose an appropriately sized container that isn't too big, but allows the roots a bit of growing room (As Cindy of From My Corner of Katy noted, too much room encourages rot.)

Now, who's ready to buy more plants?

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from the Secrets of a Plantaholic file + work