Container gardening comes with unique sets of instructions for care and maintenance, unlike conventional gardening where Nature acts as the guardian for plants. Read more to learn about this.
Container Gardening: Basic Needs of Container Plants (Part 2)
In fact, container plants survive far better than usual plants because of all the special attention they enjoy from us! Also, the isolated environment of a container keeps a plant safer from natural hazards like harsh weather, pests, weeds, fungal diseases, etc.
However, the limited space of a container implies that a plant would eventually outgrow its “exclusive home”. That is why a container plant requires re-potting or root-pruning from time to time, whenever a plant reaches its mature size in the container.
I love to give my plants an occasional “hair-cut” to make them look attractive, by checking some wild growth here and there. Prune away those dead leaves or leggy branches to keep your plants neat and compact. Pruning allows a plant to be trained and maintained into a desirable shape.
- Time for pruning: The best time to prune a plant is at the beginning of its growing season or at the end of its flowering season. It’s not a good idea to prune right before a plant begins to flower because one may cut-off newly developing flower-buds.
- Shape-up the plant: Pinching the ends of a growing stem will develop a dense bushy growth, by encouraging more branches to grow from the nodes below. For a tree-like shape, prune the branches growing closer to the ground, leaving one or two main stems to build-up.
- Dead-heading flowers: It involves pruning spent blossoms by snipping at the base of a flower. During the flowering-season, a plant diverts its energy into developing flowers at the expense of its vegetative growth (leaves and branches). Even a dying flower consumes energy, whereas some flowers evolve into developing seeds. Therefore, dead-heading promotes growth of new flower-buds, encouraging a plant to bloom profusely during its flowering-season.
- Pruning shears: These are used for pruning thick branches with a sharp single cut. Properly cutting those woody stems avoids diseases in plants from contamination of the exposed surface. Always use clean pruning-shears and scissors to avoid spreading any infection in plants.
Read in about the various methods and benefits of pruning in “Basics of Pruning”: http://www.greenmylife.in/basics-of-pruning/). Also, to know about pruning your beloved roses, read http://www.greenmylife.in/pruning-roses/.
A plant eventually out-grows its container and becomes root-bound. An over-grown plant dries out faster and requires more space and nutrients to grow.
Step-by-step guide on Re-potting:
- It is time to re-pot when the roots begin to grow out of the drainage-hole as well as come out from the top-soil. The best time to re-pot a plant is during the active growing season so that the plant can recover from the stress of re-potting.
- Water the plant thoroughly before taking it out of its container. A plant ready for re-potting would come out of the pot easily due to its compact root-system. If the soil around the roots is loose then there’s still space for the roots to grow and re-potting is not necessary.
- Tightly-packed roots don’t absorb the nutrients properly and don’t spread out well. Therefore, trim the roots and straighten them out before transplanting.
- Place the plant in its new container at a level close to the surface. Fill the remaining space with fresh potting-soil, fertilizer and organic matter. Shake the container and water it gently to let the soil settle. Add more soil if required.
- Rest the plant in shade for a few days giving it time to recover, before keeping it in its original position.
For step-by-step guide on growing plants in containers, read “Container Gardening- How to grow plants in containers?” http://www.greenmylife.in/container-gardening/ Read “Transplanting Plants” http://www.greenmylife.in/transplanting-plants/ to know more about transplanting plants in containers as well as in gardens.
If you don’t wish to re-pot your plant, then prune the over-grown roots to promote their new growth. This technique is very similar to the one used in developing Bonsai.
Step-by-step guide on Root-pruning:
- Remove the plant from the container after soaking it in water for a few hours.
- Using a sharp and clean pruning-shear cut back the roots to about one-third of its original mass. Remove dead and finer roots, leaving thick central roots intact.
- Place the plant back into the container and add fresh potting-soil mixed with fertilizer and organic matter. Shake the container and water the plant gently to let the soil settle. Add more soil if required.
- Keep the plant in shade for a few weeks to let it recover from the shock. Once the plant perks-up and regains growth, shift it to its original position.
- Fungal diseases
A fungus is the most common cause of diseases in houseplants. Since a fungus needs moist conditions to grow, most of the fungal diseases can be contributed to over-watering and watering over the leaves. Some of the common diseases are:
- Powdery mildew: white powder like coating on leaves which spreads to stems and flowers
- Leaf rust: yellowish-brown spots, usually on the undersides of leaves
- Leaf spot: brown or black rings with yellow margins on leaves
- White mould: white, web-like coating on the surface of a damp soil
- Sooty mould: black or dark-green soot-like cover on leaves
- Grey mould: greyish rot on dead or weak branches, leaves, flowers or fruits
Treatment for fungal diseases
- Remove infected parts of a plant like leaves, stems, flowers or fruits.
- Spray the plant with an organic fungicide like Neem-oil to inhibit the disease from spreading.
- If the top-soil is infected with white mould, replace it with fresh soil.
Prevention of fungal diseases
- Place the plant in a bright, ventilated spot avoiding dark and damp spaces.
- Let the soil dry out between watering to inhibit mould and other infections from spreading to the roots.
- Remove dead leaves, spent flowers or life-less stems regularly as they invite fungus.
- Prefer to water the plants or mist the leaves in the morning rather than in the evening to avoid fungus from developing during night-time.
- Wash your hands and sterilize your tools after dealing with an infected plant.
- Remove weeds by regularly plucking it out along with its roots.
- Check their growth by allowing the surface of the soil dry out between watering.
- Cover the exposed soil with organic mulch to prevent the weeds from growing.
Know about the efficient natural ways to control weeds in “Weed control methods” http://www.greenmylife.in/weed-control/.
- Cold Damage
Some tropical plants, which are adapted to warm and humid climate throughout the year, become sensitive during the cold winter season especially in the northern parts of India. Leaves of a plant turn brown, wilt and die. Cold damage can be prevented by the following measures:
- Reduce watering during cooler season as the growth of a plant reduces and it goes into hibernation. Start regular watering only when new growth appears in the warm spring season.
- Don’t panic if a plant sheds its leaves as it is a natural remedy to sustain itself during winters.
- Mulch the soil around the plant by covering it with organic matter like shredded leaves. Mulching protects the roots of a plant from frost damage.
- One can choose to bring the plants indoors to protect them from the cold, as indoor environment is warmer and more humid than outdoors.
- Avoid pruning or transplanting your plants during winters as they may not recover from its stress. Wait until the beginning of growing season when plants can regain their health by developing new growth.
Read more on plant care and treating their common problems in “Why do plants die?” http://www.greenmylife.in/why-do-plants-die/.
Experimenting with Container Gardening
Container gardening provides a flexible means to experiment with Nature to suit our modern lives. Scientific methods like root-pruning for creating Bonsai, growing plants in a nutrient-rich liquid medium without using soil or creating green-walls by growing plants vertically; are all brilliant solutions for integrating greenery in our man-made environment. From terrace gardens to vertical gardens, bonsai to miniature gardens and hydroponics (soil-less cultivation) to terrariums (closed-container plants); container gardening offers endless ways to redesign and embrace plants in our lives.
If you missed out on Part 1, which deals with sunlight, watering, organic fertilizers and pesticides, here’s a link: Container Gardening: Basic Needs of Container Plants (Part 1).