There are many types of containers from which to
choose. A good container should be large enough to provide room
for soil and roots, have sufficient head room for proper watering,
provide bottom drainage, and be attractive without competing with
the plant it holds. Headroom is the space between the soil level
and the top of the pot that allows for watering a plant.
Containers may be fabricated of ceramics, plastic, fiberglass,
wood, aluminum, copper, brass, and many other materials.
Clay and Ceramic Containers
Unglazed and glazed porous clay pots with drainage holes are
widely used. Ornate containers are often nothing but an outer
shell to cover the plain clay pot. Clay pots absorb and lose
moisture through their walls. Frequently the greatest accumulation
of roots is next to the walls of the clay pot, because moisture
and nutrients accumulate in the clay pores. Although easily
broken, clay pots provide excellent aeration for plant roots and
are considered by some to be the healthiest type of container for
Ceramic pots are usually glazed on the outside,
some-times also on the inside. They are frequently designed
without drainage holes. This necessitates careful watering
practices and does not allow for leaching. Small novelty
containers have little room for soil and roots and are largely
ornamental. They should be avoided. It should be noted that
putting pot chips, clay pot shards or gravel in the bottom of a
pot does not improve soil drainage; they only provide a small
space beneath the soil where some excess water can drain inside
Plastic and Fiberglass Containers
Plastic and fiberglass containers are usually quite light and
easy to handle. They have become popular in recent years because
they are relatively inexpensive and often quite attractive in
shape and color. Plastic pots are easy to sterilize or clean for
reuse, and because they are not porous, they need less frequent
watering and tend to accumulate fewer salts.
Actively growing indoor plants need repotting from time to time.
This occurs very rarely with some slower-growing plants, more
frequently with others. Foliage plants require repotting when
their roots have filled the pot and are growing out the bottom of
When repotting becomes necessary, it should be done
without delay. The pot selected for repotting should be no more
than 2 inches larger in diameter than the pot the plant is
currently growing in; should have at least one drainage hole; may
be either clay, ceramic, or plastic; and must be clean. Wash
soluble salts from clay pots with water and a scrub brush, and
wash all pots in a solution of 1 part liquid bleach to 9 parts
Potting media should be coarse enough to allow good
drainage, yet have sufficient water retention capabilities. Most
plants are removed easily from their pot if the pot is held
upside-down while knocking the lip of the container sharply upon
the edge of a table. Hold your hand over the soil, straddling the
plant between the fore and middle fingers while knocking it out of
its present container.
Potting media should be moistened before repotting
begins. To repot, place drainage material in the bottom of the pot
with some new soil. If the plant has become root-bound it will be
necessary to cut and unwind any roots that circle the plant,
otherwise the roots will never develop normally. If the old soil
surface has accumulated salts, the top inch should be removed. Set
the rootball in the middle of the new soil. Fill soil around the
sides between the rootball and pot. Do not add soil above the
original level on the rootball, unless the roots are exposed or it
has been necessary to remove some of the surface soil. Do not pack
the soil; to firm or settle it, tap the pot on a level surface or
gently press the soil with your fingers.
|Leggy plant needs to grow bushier, keep
more compact form.
|Pinch out growing tip of tallest stem,
removing it close to the leaf point.
|New growth forms just below pinched-out
tip, makes plant bushy.
After watering and settling, the soil level should be
sufficiently below the level of the pot to leave head-room. A
properly potted plant has enough headroom to allow water to wash
through the soil to thoroughly moisten it.
TRAINING AND GROOMING
This includes a number of minor care activities that distinguish
the beginner from the more experienced indoor plant grower.
Pinching is one of them. Pinching is the removal of 1 inch or less
of new stem and leaf growth, just above a node. This leaves the
plant attractive and stimulates new growth. It can be a one-time
or continuous activity, depending on the need and the desires of
the plant owner. If a plant should be kept compact, but
well-filled out, frequent pinching will achieve this.
Pruning is a similar activity. Pruning includes removal
of other than terminal shoot tips. Sometimes an entire branch or
section of a plant should be removed for the sake of appearance.
Disbudding is another related care activity. Certain
flower buds are removed either to obtain larger blooms from a few
choice buds or to prevent flowering of a very young plant (or
recently rooted cutting) that should not bear the physical drain
of flowering early.
Ivies and hoya, as well as philodendron and syngonium,
are frequently grown in a formal pattern. This can be easily
achieved by training them on trellises. It is important to keep
plants clean and neat. It not only improves the appearance of
plants but reduces the incidence of insects and disease problems.
Remove all spent flowers, dying leaves, and dead branches. Keep
leaves dust-free by washing plants with warm water and mild soap
(cover pot to prevent soap from entering the soil). If tips of
leaves become brown and dry, trim them off neatly with sharp
scissors. Removal of alkali deposits at the soil surface and
replacement with clean soil does more for appearance than for the
CARE OF SPECIAL POTTED PLANTS
Too little light, excessive heat, and improper watering are the
usual causes of failure in caring for gift plants. These plants
are grown in a greenhouse, where the night temperatures are
usually cool, there is ample light, and the air is moist. When
they are brought into a dry home, where the light is poor and the
temperatures are maintained for human comfort, results are
frequently disappointing. Do not expect to keep a gift plant from
year to year. Enjoy them while they are attractive and in-season
and then discard.
The poinsettia requires bright light and should be kept away from
drafts. A temperature between 65 and 70º F. is ideal. Avoid
temperatures below 60º and above 75º. Keep plants well-
watered but do not overwater. Some of the newer, long-lasting
varieties can be kept attractive all winter.
Gardeners frequently ask whether they can carry their
poinsettias over to bloom again next year. It is question-able
whether the results are worth the effort, as the quality of
home-grown plants seldom equals that of commercially grown plants.
However, for those who wish to try, the following procedure can be
After the bracts fade or fall, set the plants where
they will receive indirect light and temperatures around 55 to 60º.
Water sparingly during this time, just enough to keep the stems
from shriveling. Cut the plants back to within 5 inches of the
ground and re-pot in fresh soil. As soon as new growth begins,
place in a well-lighted window. After danger of frost, place the
pot outdoors in a partially shaded spot. Pinch the new growth back
to get a plant with several stems. Do not pinch after September
1st. About Labor Day, or as soon as the nights are cool, bring the
plant indoors. Continue to grow in a sunny room with a night
temperature of about 65º.
Since the poinsettia blooms only during short days,
exclude artificial light, either by covering with a light-proof
box each evening or placing in an unlighted room or closet for a
minimum of 12 hours of darkness. Plants require full light in the
daytime, so be sure to return them to a sunny window. Start the
short-day treatment in mid-September to have blooms between
December 1 and Christmas.
Azaleas require direct sunlight to remain healthy. A night
temperature of 60º will prolong bloom. Keep the soil
constantly moist. If the leaves should turn yellow, the soil is
not acid enough. Use an acid fertilizer sold especially for
azaleas. Do not use softened water. When repotting, use a mixture
high in acid peat moss.
Azaleas can be planted, pot and all, in a shady spot in
the garden during the summer months. Examine them frequently and
keep them watered during dry periods. Greenhouse azaleas are not
hardy, and need to be brought indoors before freezing weather.
Azaleas need a cool, rest treatment before they are
forced into bloom. Place the plants in a room with filtered light
and a temperature between 35-50º F. During this rest period,
flower buds will develop. Then place in a well-lighted, warm (65º
F.) room around January 1 to bring them into bloom. Unless you
have the proper growing conditions for the azalea, you should not
attempt to carry the plants over.
Gardenias grown indoors need special care. They demand an acid
soil and should receive the same nutritional care as azaleas. The
night temperature should be near 60º and the humidity around
the plant should be kept high. High temperature and low light
intensity will result in flower bud drop.
The secret of growing amaryllis is to keep the plants actively
growing after they finish blooming. Keep the plants in full sun,
with a night temperature above 60º. As soon as danger of
frost has passed, set the plants in the garden in a semi-shaded
spot. In the fall, before danger of frost, bring them in, stop
watering them to allow old growth to die back, and store them in a
cool, dark place to rest. They will be ready to force again about
November 1. Bring them into a warm light room and water moderately
to begin new growth.
The Christmas cactus has become increasingly popular with the
development of several new varieties. At least three related
species are sold in addition to a number of cultivars. All have
similar cultural requirements.
The secret of good bloom seems to be one of temperature
and photoperiod control. They will develop buds and bloom if given
bright light, short days, and night temperatures between 55 and 65º
F. Christmas cacti bloom best when somewhat pot-bound, repotting
is necessary only during midwinter, but bright sun during summer
months can make plants look pale and yellow.
Christmas cacti require less water from October to
March than they do when growth is active from April to September.
A rest period is very important if plants are to bloom abundantly.
Dormancy should be started about the middle of September and
continued for 8 weeks. Care should be taken that soil never
becomes water-logged during the dark days of winter.
Cyclamen require full sunlight and a night temperature of between
50 and 60º. They are heavy users of water and must be watered
whenever the surface of the soil is dry. Flower buds will fail to
develop if night temperature is too high or if light is poor.
Cyclamen can be carried over, but as with the poinsettia,
homegrown plants are seldom equal to those grown by a commercial
grower. Let the plants die down after they finish flowering. Repot
the fleshy corm in June with the top of the corm above the soil
line. Allow resting bulbs to dry, but not to become shrivelled.