Let’s do some Potting!

Garden sizes are shrinking and growing in pots and containers is gaining popularity, both through need and desire. These days, more and more gardeners are taking up serious potting! Herewith are some simple tips and practical advice on how to improve your container growing skills.


Think carefully before you start planting or potting. Be sure that you are using the correct plants and containers for your express purposes or needs. Many a container gardener has been disappointed with results through a lack of simple planning before getting stuck in to the work load. Here are few pertinent questions that need answers in order to establish exactly what is required, both in terms of containers and plants.

  1. Will the pot be placed in the sun? (Sun/Shade)
  2. Where will the pot be kept? (Indoors/Outdoors)
  3. Will the plants be? (Ornamental/Edible)
  4. What will the plants be grown for? (Flowers/Foliage)
  5. What will the pot be planted with? (Solitary/Mixed)
  6. What will the planting style be? (Formal/Informal)
  7. How much water will the plants need? (Plenty/Minimal)
  8. What will the potted display be? (Permanent/Short Term)
  9. What will the overall impression be? (Hard/Soft)



Some other factors that have a significant influence in the selection process for pots and plants are as follows:


  • Surrounding colour schemes, both indoors and outdoors
  • Pot and plant colour schemes
  • Contrasting or complimentary colours


  • Buildings and garden features have certain architectural styles
  • Be aware of these and research for suitable pots to comply with this
  • Take note of colours and size as well


  • Interior decorators and landscape designers reflect certain a specific style
  • Try and keep in tune with any single style that may be present
  • Beware of making obvious blunders in this respect


  • Irrespective of the above factors the pots, the plants and the surroundings must be in proportion
  • Large plants in small pots are a no-no, as too are small plants in huge pots
  • Balance and harmony


  • Your own likes and dislikes are important
  • Make sure that your potted plant creations are a reflection of you
  • In certain cases, you may have to compromise


  • Every gardener has certain pre-conceived ideas with expectations
  • Be sure to try your best to fulfil these
  • Be realistic in every expectation


  • Plants have to be compatible with one another in mixed plantings – they need the same growing conditions
  • Plants and pots should go together in compliance with all of the above factors
  • They need to be able to grow in the same environments – these matters are dealt with in more detail later



Once planting is complete, the finished article/s need to be placed in their final growing place. Again, many differing factors influence this process to ensure that optimum results are achieved.


  • The direction or way that the containers face – north, south east or west
  • Each of these aspects has certain sunlight variances – full sun, light shade, full shade
  • Seasonal changes brought about by the angle of the sun


  • Basic climatic conditions – maximum and minimum temperature – is winter frost a factor
  • Humidity and the moisture content of the air
  • Rainfall
  • Proximity to the sea


  • Is there reflected heat or light from surrounding walls or structures
  • Drainage on the ground or in the garden
  • Air conditioning indoors is not a plant’s best friend
  • Pets – dogs and cats can abuse potted plants


  • The amount of care and attention that is likely to be given to the potted plants
  • Don’t over promise and under deliver in this regard
  • Plants in pots need regular care and attention to survive and lots of TLC to thrive



Simple step by step procedure for potting up plants. This applies to most plants, from smallest to largest and single plants to miniature gardens in pots – the principle is the same.


  • Make sure that you have all the necessary tools at hand
  • Wheel barrow, large pot or bucket, trowel or scoop for soil, knife to cut plastic plant bags, stick for firming down the soil, paint brush for cleaning after planting, watering can – there are bound to others required in various circumstances
  • Wash the tools and put them away after planting is completed


  • Be aware of the qualities and limitations of each different pot type – plastic, concrete, ceramic, terracotta, metal, wood – there are so many different pots these days, each with their own appeal
  • Size and finish of the pot/s relative to the plants and position that the final article will be placed in
  • Price and cost (value for money based on longevity) also has an influence in the selection process


  • Adequate drainage holes are paramount for happy potted plants
  • Make sure they are open, as some are blocked by debris
  • Drill holes in pots if necessary
  • Planting in containers with no drainage holes can be done but requires extra information – seek advice on this if you are contemplating it
  • Make sure that the size of the crocks used is large enough to prevent them falling through the hole


  • Crocks is the term used for drainage material like stone chips, broken bricks or old terracotta, fire ash, bark nuggets
  • These are placed in a layer in the base of the pot to cover the drainage holes
  • The crocks need a separation layer, like weed guard, old shade cloth or dry leaves placed over them to prevent the soil from washing between individual particles and hindering the drainage efficiency


  • The potting medium (soil) used for planting is possibly the most important part of container gardening
  • Spend money on the best possible potting media
  • Must be well drained, weed free and able to retain moisture
  • Components include pine bark based compost, palm peat or coco peat, sterilised river sand, peat moss
  • Add pre-enriching fertiliser and super absorbent polymers if deemed necessary, depending on the planting application
  • Be aware of pH levels (acid or alkaline) as some plants are sensitive to this factor


  • Fill the pot with growing medium to a level that suites the largest plants in terms of root ball size
  • Remove plant/s from their growing pot/s or nursery bag/s and position in pot, making sure they are at the correct depth and facing the right way
  • Fill in around the root ball with medium, gently firming down with fingers or a blunt stick
  • Continue process until planting is complete
  • Do not bury plants too deeply – should be at the same level as their growing container
  • Make sure that the lip of the pot is open and exposed – need 5mm to 20mm of rim above the soil level, depending on the scale of the pot
  • This allows water to seep into the soil and not just wash out over the edges


  • Cover the surface of the soil with a mulch layer where required – this looks neat, reduces drying out and supresses weed growth
  • Place any ornamentation in place – rocks, driftwood, statuettes etc
  • Brush the pot to get rid of soil and grime (wipe with moist cloth if need be)
  • Place completed pots in their final growing position
  • Reflect on the positioning and change if need be – they get heavier and more difficult to handle once watered
  • Water well – gently until water starts draining from the drainage holes
  • Sit back, relax and admire your creativity



The selecting and planting of pots is the easy part of container gardening. The test and challenges arise when they have to be maintained and cared for. Many a potted plant has succumbed to neglect and shoddy post planting care. In fact, potted plants need more tender loving care than those growing in the ground.


  • Drip trays or saucers collect water that drains from the holes in the base of pots and containers
  • These are important indoors or on surfaces where water can cause stains or damage
  • Make sure that they fit correctly where they are required
  • Drip trays are bad outdoors, where watering is not controlled and rainfall can fill them, causing waterlogging


  • Regular watering for the first 3 to 4 weeks immediately after planting is critical – check daily especially during hot weather
  • Plants have different water requirements – make sure that they are provided with the correct amount
  • Check for symptoms of drying out regularly
  • Pay particular attention to plants growing under the roof overhangs – especially when it’s raining, as they invariably don’t get any rain water
  • Check for waterlogging due to clogged drainage holes or other problems


  • Potted plants need regular applications of fertiliser, especially during the spring and summer growing seasons
  • Use water soluble fertiliser for densely planted containers, whereas granular fertiliser is easy to apply to specimen plants with plenty of open soil surface on which to apply it
  • Apply all fertilisers at the manufacturer’s recommended rate – no more
  • Apply plant foods when the weather is cool
  • Water after application
  • Some plants benefit from foliar feeding by spraying water soluble fertiliser onto the leaves


  • Mixed plantings need regular pruning to prevent any one plant from dominating or swamping the whole container
  • Dead head spent flowers and remove old or dying leaves regularly
  • Rake over or tidy up mulch layers on the soil surface
  • Paint certain pots as and when necessary
  • Wash algae and moss off of pots – some gardeners like the “aged” look, in which case leave the green growth


  • Decisions will inevitably have to be made as to when the pot and plant’s lifespan is over
  • This is usually a very personal issue with individual acceptance and minimum standards playing a key role
  • All good potted plants come to an end – accept it and get on with the re-planting



Container gardening can be best summarised by remembering the The 3 F’s


Pots and containers afford flexibility – move them around, change them regularly, move them for protection against weather


Pots and containers require finesse – correct selection of plants and container, careful planting, meticulous post planting care and attention


Pots and containers are heaps of fun – a joy to plant, beautiful to look at, should be the envy of friends and family

DISCLAIMER:  The information presented on this website is intended solely as a general guide. We neither endorse specific plant varieties over others nor claim expertise in stock performance. All information is believed to be accurate, based on private inquiries and experiences, and is provided in good faith. Blackwood’s, including its employees, disclaims any responsibility for harm, loss, cost, or damage arising from the use or reliance upon any information on this website, especially if any part of the information proves to be inaccurate or incomplete. Please note that the displayed photos are not representative of current stock but are used for illustrative purposes only.