When the garden goes to pot

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WITH busy, modern lifestyles some people simply don’t have the time to maintain a large garden.

Consequently, the size of building blocks is getting smaller and some modern houses on small blocks prefer to have a courtyard with plants in containers.

Equally, large numbers of people live in units with only the balcony as a potential “garden”.

The garden in new housing developments can include large parkland and open space or community areas. A good example of this trend is the Lend Lease Springbank Rise estate in Casey.

Here are a few pointers for successfully growing container plants:

1. CONTAINERS come in brightly-coloured ceramic pots to terracotta, or wooden barrels to the humble plastic pot.

Firstly, make sure the container has drainage holes. It may seem obvious, however, I have seen a range of so-called indoor pots at DIY stores with the saucer permanently fixed to the pot with no drainage of any sort. With wooden barrels it is often up to the purchaser to drill the drainage holes. Next, place a piece of fly-wire mesh or shade cloth over the hole/s to prevent grubs entering the potting mix from below. Then place a layer of charcoal or wood ash in the bottom of the pot. Potting-mix companies now formulate some of their mixes specifically for containers. These often include slow-release fertiliser to get the plants off to a good start combined with water-retention crystals.

2. WHEN buying potting mix look for the best quality with four red ticks on the bag designating top quality. Please, for the sake of your plants and assuming you want them to last a long time, only the best will do. Not the cheap potting mix that some supermarkets sell at about $4 a bag. Good-quality potting mix will cost about $10-$12 a bag. Obviously, it is no good buying good potting mix and then buying cheap plants.

3. UNLESS absolutely necessary, do not place saucers under pots. This will retain water and can lead to root rot and the death of the plant. Always raise the pot off the ground either with the purpose-made feet or even pieces of paver or tile.

People often put saucers under pots on wooden decks in the mistaken belief it will stop the wood rotting. A damp saucer in contact with the deck will hasten the demise of the timber. Whereas, with good air flow under the pot, the timber will quickly dry out between watering.

Likewise, for indoor plant saucers sitting on carpet, you will end up with a large patch of rotten carpet. Incidentally 80 per cent of indoor plants die from over-watering with the saucer constantly full of water.

For indoor and outdoor container plants, if you must have a saucer under the pot, fill the saucer with pebbles and sit the plant on top of the pebbles.

What plants to pot

Some suggested plants for containers include:

  • Dwarf Camellia sasanqua “Paradise Petite” or C.s. “Paradise Baby Jane”.

  • Kumquats, brandied kumquats with cream in winter, yum.

  • Daphne “Eternal Fragrance”.

  • Pots in shady areas, grow carrots, parsnips and beetroot.

  • In sunny areas, grow tomatoes, peas, lettuce and cucumbers.

  • All herbs prefer full sun.

  • Annual flowers in sun, such as petunias.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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