What grows easily in pots?
May 4, 2020
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All year round you can grow popular herbs such as mint, parsley, all varieties of chives, spring onions, vietnamese mint, lemon balm, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, true lemongrass (not citronella, way too large). All of these will do better if they are started in spring, but they will grow all year round.
Over the cooler months is the best time for coriander. In the warmer months it grows waaay too fast and goes straight to seed as soon as it detects dry soil. Very frustrating!
When it comes to spring time, you can plant basils, dill and chillies.
Did you know that only the basils, dill and coriander will need to be replaced each year? They are annuals. Their life span is one season/year. The rest are perennial plants; their lifespan is several years.
Once you get into it, there’s a really long list of edible flowers. Some are enormous plants. To start right now, with flowers that will be perfectly happy in pots, it’s actually the same list as I mentioned in What grows well now for winter in Bellingen. Try calendula, echinacea, cornflowers, marigolds, pansies, violets, johnny jump ups, yarrow, nasturtiums, snapdragons.
Tasty leafy things! Think rocket, all sorts of lettuces, mustard leafs, mizuna, tatsoi, kale. All fairly simple.
You will be pushing it to grow a head of cabbage, but silverbeet, chard, and the smaller asian greens such as bok choi, pak choi and choy sum should also be possible over the cooler months.
All of these leafy greens are annuals.
When it comes time to eat, the trick is to harvest leaf by leaf. There’s no need to pull the entire plant out. Judiciously snip off a few leaves from each as you need.
Yup, some trees are just fine in a pot. A really big pot, but a pot nonetheless.
You could have a bay tree, lemon myrtle, fig tree, kaffir lime, dwarf lemon, olive tree and cumquats. One pot each!
Do you like pineapples, ginger, turmeric or cherry tomatoes? Cha-ching! Good news. Each of these will also grow in a pot.
Pineapple. Quite a big plant and one of the few plants that really like a heat bank like a brick wall. Although the plant lives for several years, they only produce one fruit per plant plus pups (baby plants).
Ginger & turmeric are root plants (did I really need to point that out?). Leave enough room for the small piece of root you put in the soil to grow to be as big as your hand, or thereabouts. The leaves die down in the dry & cool season (winter). This is when you harvest the roots. They take about a year to work their magic.
Cherry tomatoes are an annual that can be planted in spring. They don’t like the cold. Their season is the warm months.
Hop over to Pinterest and type in something like ‘upcycled herb planter’ for a good laugh at all the thoroughly unsuitable cutesy ideas for pots for plants. Most of these look great because the plant has just been popped in for the photo shoot.
To actually grow plants, here’s a reality check.
Unless we’re talking swamp loving plants like mint, your pot MUST drain. No holes in the bottom? Not realistic. There goes 90% of Pinterest! In my opinion you should also have a tray to catch the water (and soil) that drains out. Unless you love wiping up after watering.
Your herbs, flowers and leafy greens will need soil 15 – 20cm deep for plenty of room for their roots to grow for them to be healthy over many months, or years for perennials. Old manure and compost or potting mix is ideal.
How wide should your pot be? Well, I like to err on the side of more room equals more soil equals more leeway with watering and having more nutrients available. The exact answer depends on how many plants. Do you have an idea of the size of the root ball of the plants you want to grow? You’ve seen lettuce roots on supermarket lettuces? About the size of a tennis ball, or a bit smaller. That’s a rough guide for herbs, leafy greens and flowers, on a per plant basis. A bigger plant (rosemary) will grow to need a bigger root space. Smaller plants (spring onions) need only a golf ball in root space each.
Beware porous containers. Some people love them, I hate them. Make an informed choice. Unglazed terracotta pots soak up plenty of water, and they let water evaporate through them. I don’t like them as I don’t like trying to guess how much extra water needs to added for the pot to soak up and how much evaporation is likely, both for today’s conditions. Non porous pots ie glazed terracotta, don’t require this guessing about how the each day’s weather will affect the amount of water to give.
The beginner-friendly mints are an exception to the ‘must have drainage’ rule. Regular mint, spearmint, peppermint, vietnamese mint, lemon balm & any of the fancy mints such as chocolate mint – like a lot of water and are quite happy to sit in it. Actually, so is lemongrass. Sit them under a dripping tap. Put their pot in a bucket so they always have water. Or grow them in a wicking bed/pot.
What’s a wicking pot? Essentially it’s a pot (or garden bed) with a bath of water at the bottom and a way to allow excess water to drain. This might be a container with holes about an inch up the side instead of at the bottom. It might be a regular pot sitting in a shallower tray. Your plant still needs 15 – 20cm of soil plus the water bath. The water wicks its way up through the soil, keeping your plants nicely hydrated without drowning them. In summer in Australia, it’s an awesome method.
Plants in pots are a bit like keeping pets. They need attentive care to keep them healthy.
Putting the pots somewhere that is able to receive rain is good, usually. But watch out they won’t get mashed by the deluge from overflowing gutters in one of our floodstorms.
Full sun, not much grows in full shade
Beware of accidentally cooking your plants. Ceramic pots, on tiles or concrete, next to brick walls in the sun – that’s a lot of radiant heat. A couple of days of this could dry out and fry your plants.
Just like plants in the garden soil, keep them mulched to retain moisture.
I like to do a weekly watering round. That’s nice and easy to remember. In really hot weather, they might need a mid week top up. And leafy greens will probably need water every other day.
A feed once a month is also easy to remember. Seaweed or weak fertiliser. Right before full moon is the best time. Again, leafy greens might need this weekly. They need to grow quickly or they taste stringy and bitter.
What else can you do for your potted plants? Prune off any dead bits. Gently brush off any dust so their solar panels can work at full capacity, and lend a helping thumb & forefinger if any mites appear.
You will notice the soil level in the pot goes down over time. Top it up each year. Spring is the best time for perennial plants. Or each time you’re replacing your seasonal annuals.