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Plants in pots

​Growing plants in pots can provide a gardener with many positives that are not available from having the plant in the ground. Having a plant in a pot allows the gardener to move it around relatively easily and to also have a plant growing in locations otherwise not possible - indoors, in apartments and on balconies to name just a few. Some gardeners just prefer the convenience of potted plants.

In order to successfully grow healthy plants in pots, you should follow some basic guidelines. The following tips will help you enjoy gardening with plants in pots.

1. Water

Plants that are in pots can be even more susceptible to both too much water and not enough - even more so than plants that are in the ground.


If the soil in a pot does not drain well, the plant roots and therefore the plant are likely to die. While the soil will usually need to be moist, having too much water will fill all the air spaces - vital oxygen will not be available to the roots so that they can perform many vital functions. Therefore, ensure that firstly there are drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and that they are clear. When potting a plant, it is always a good idea to not add the soil directly onto the drainage holes - cover these with gravel, or perhaps a piece of mesh or even some old broken pieces of pot - anything that will keep the soil directly away from the drainage holes.

Use a good quality potting soil that has much organic matter in it - this will both help it drain while ensuring that a good level of moisture is retained in the soil.


Plants in pots will require more regular watering than plants that are in the ground. This is due to:

  • their position may result in them not receiving adequate water from rain.
  • the pot itself can become quite hot from direct sunshine resulting in increased evaporation.
  • the surface area of the pot itself may be quite small; again reducing water that the plant may receive.

To overcome these problems, monitor closely the soil moisture level - actually inspect it. If the soil is not moist, then it will need to be watered. Generally, plants in pots will need to be watered at least 2 or 3 times a week, but this will of course depend on your location - indoors, outdoors or local climate. Checking regularly will allow you to become familiar with what is normal for your location and your plants.

2. Fertilize

Plants in pots have limited access to nutrients - what they get in the pot is all they get. Therefore, there is a need to replenish what they use, and this should be done more regularly than many people realise. While there will be variations depending on the type of plant and location, the following is a general guide to consider:

  • Liquid fertilisers are great to add regularly. These are mostly easy for the plants to absorb, but they don't tend to last long. Therefore you will need to add these more often than granular slow release fertilisers. Typically this will be every 2 to 4 weeks. Good examples of liquid fertilisers include:
    • Seaweed (kelp) concentrate
    • Fish emulsion
    • Worm castings
    • Compost tea
  • Slow Release Granular fertilisers take a bit more time to be released in to the soil and therefore are a bit slower to be taken up by the plants. The great thing about this is that they ensure that the necessary nutrients are available over a longer period of time for the plant. Typically, you might only add these 2 or 3 times throughout the growing season. Depending on your climate, this might be across the entire year. Good examples of slow release organic fertilisers include:
    • worm castings
    • powdered Seaweed (kelp) meal
    • compost,

If you are ok with inorganic fertilisers, there are also many slow release fertiliser granules available from your local nurseries.

Remember, the nutrients within a pot can be depleted quite quickly. If you don't replenish these nutrients regularly, the plant is likely to not flourish and suffer from a range of deficiency diseases. Also, remember that one of the best defences against pests is to maintain a healthy plant.

3. Refresh Potting Mixture

Overtime, the organic matter that is in your potting mix will decompose leaving behind inorganic materials such as the sand and perlite which are both used as a base for many potting mixtures. Also, the potting mix can become quite hydrophobic and no matter how much water you add, it just drains through without actually wetting the soil and being available for the plant.

In the short term, you can address these issues with such things as wetting agents, but ultimately, you should repot your plant, providing it with fresh soil to get its roots into. Generally, you should do this every 2 or 3 years.

4. Pests and Disease

Like all plants, potted plants can be subject to the usual pests and diseases. But, because potted plants are often not in a 'natural" setting, they can be prone to attack by more pests and diseases. To minimise the risk of pests and disease ensure that you:

  • check the plant regularly and take quick action should a pest or disease be noticed.
  • follow good gardening practices to minimise the risk of the plant suffering should it be subjected to a pest or disease - a healthy plant will always be able to respond to a problem better.
  • If not inside, grow plants in your garden that encourage predator insect species into the area - they will deal with many pests that your potted plants would otherwise be subjected to.

In general, a pest infestation or disease is often a sign of a different problem - remember; a healthy plant will always be less susceptible to these problems.

5. Light

Ensure that you know the level of light that your plant requires. Often, plants in pots end up being placed in the most convenient position and this is not always the place where the plant will receive the optimum amount of light. If you have a specific spot where you want a potted plant to be located, be aware of the amount of light that the position receives and select a plant that will thrive in that location. Trying to force a plant into a location that it is not suited, will always results in sadness, not to mention the added expense.

About the author: Steven McLean

I am an educator and passionate gardener and traveler. Throughout my adult life, gardening has been my passion, therapy, drive and source of purpose. Even as a child I had an intrinsic interest in plants and a desire to understand what makes them grow.

I distinctly remember the moment this began - my family was on one of our regular road trips from Hervey Bay; Australia. We were driving past a field of sugar cane. Dad pulled the car over and we cut a couple of sugar cane stems and brought them home for a treat. To be honest, I didn’t really like the taste, but I did want to try and grow it; and that is exactly what I did. It was then that my fascination, interest and passion for gardening and understanding plants began.

Fast forward a few years and I studied biological sciences and began what would be a 36 year career as a Biology educator. From this, I don’t only love gardening, but I also love helping others learn about gardening. I am also always looking for new ways to develop my own gardening knowledge. I like to think I am truly a life-long learner.

Fundamental to my beliefs about education is that learning is often best done as a part of a community - learning from others, and helping others to learn. It is this type of community that I hope iCultivate will be for its members - a community of gardeners, keen to share their gardening knowledge and wanting to learn about new ways to garden - a community built on the love of gardening.

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