Killing your Plants Part One

Killing your Plants Part One
“Before you knew how to ride a bicycle, you didn’t know how to ride a bicycle.”

I can’t remember when I first heard this proverb or who said it. It’s true about life and so too of container gardening. We all had to learn ‘how to’ sometime. Still – it is easy to skip and skim and take shortcuts that may make us miss, or forget or become inattentive about what’s important.

What follows is the first part of a three part article which summarizes the ways we kill our plants … and because our containers and pot plants give us so much pleasure, it is worth the effort of caring for them conscientiously.

If you don’t really like plants and pots and gardening or if plants don’t give you pleasure or if you just can’t look after them for one reason or another, then leave them be. Many feel obliged to have plants because it’s the thing to have. Don’t, I say – why not go for flower art or mosaic or pottery or sculpture or something else to decorate your space?

Our kill-a-plant-behaviours might include the following in no specific order. If you know them all, great but if your containers are looking poorly for some reason or another, then maybe the list of do’s and don’ts that follows can help. I hope so.

a)Your prevailing weather conditions and environment will determine the kinds of plants you can grow easily. It will be difficult to establish an alpine garden if you live in desert areas and likewise, unless in a hot house, cacti and succulents will not grow in the snow.
b)Exotic plants make lovely gifts, but it may not be your fault if they die.
c)Your local nursery is a big help here – they will usually only stock plants that grow well in your area so trust them and choose from the many they have available.

a)Too big too small, check plant choices and use a pot within a pot if necessary. There are plants that do not like it when roots are not contained somehow.
b)Too many plants in one pot all vying for water and food and attention?
c)Round or square. Aesthetics aside, roses, for example, should go into square containers so that their roots don’t wind around themselves.
d)Material like ceramic versus plastic. Ceramic breathes but is heavy, plastic can crack but is light. Choose well for your needs, it is not only cost that is important.

a)Draughts, ferns especially hate to be placed where wind and breezes flow past, or in front of open doors and windows.
b)Windowsill touching glass. Panes get hot during the day in the sunshine and cold at night. Make sure plants on window sills do not touch the glass and are safe from falling over.
c)Walkways – people and pets brushing up against containers can damage leaves and weaken the plant, affect buds and blooming.

a)When it comes to watering all plants have different needs and these will vary with environment, ambient temperatures, amount of daylight and plant type.
b)Water regularly, set aside a day on a weekly basis to check your containers and stick to your schedule, you may need to water some plants weekly and others every ten days or so.
c)This schedule will depend on the types of plants and the humidity and light situation.
d)Wet the soil thoroughly, allow the water to drain into the drip tray then empty this after twenty minutes.
e)If your container does not have a drip tray, put it on pot feet so that it does not sit flush on the ground where drainage holes may be blocked.
f)Ensure drainage holes have not be blocked and that they still allow water to escape.
g)Don’t let plants sit in water – root rot is likely.
h)Keep soil moist at all times for most plants, and not wet. Check by sticking your finger into the soil for about an inch – this will confirm the moisture for you.
i)If you are not a ‘career’ gardener and do not have time to fuss, simplify things and choose plants with similar watering requirements.

a)Never allow your containers to dry out completely (except sometimes!)
b)Water regularly, set aside a day on a weekly basis and stick to your schedule.
c)Don’t just water the surface, make sure the water reaches the roots.
d)Make sure your soil is not too sandy for the type of plant you are growing.
e)If you have salty deposits on your ceramic pots, you are under watering.
f)Don’t be afraid to water. A cactus does not need as much water as a rose, but it still needs enough water. Your plants will ‘speak’ to you about what they need if you remain observant.

a)PH, friability, sandy factor, composts, and mulch – all of these factors must be right for the plants you are growing.
b)There are specialist soils available for use such as violets, bonsai, a cacti and succulents. Use these if you need to.
c)Keep your soils conditioned with additions such as bone meal.
d)Composts can be acidic or not – choose well.
e)Roots must be covered in most instances, but there are some plants that tops of roots are exposed – irises for example.
f)Always leave space at the top of any container so that watering does not displace soil.
g)Soil may be too shallow for the plant chosen – not enough root space, plants falls over or just die, seemingly for no reason.

a)Plants react directly to their treatment and continuous care. Deadheading will encourages new blossoms, pinching back will encourage growth, and pruning in time will allow the plant to rest while gathering strength to produce for the new season.
b)Buy low maintenance plants if you have trouble with time spent in the container garden.
c)Remember though, that low maintenance is not no maintenance – all plants need to be looked after for one reason or another.

***In Killing your Plants Part Two we cover: Drainage; Light; Low Humidity; Reading Care Instructions; Shock, Change and Moving; and Pests and Diseases.

***In Killing your Plants Part Three we cover Temperature; Roots; Fertiliser; Neglect and General.

Green thumbs abound – and we do not mean to kill our plants on purpose. Enhance your knowledge and skills in the garden, and accept that by making mistakes we learn the lessons we need to learn … even if it costs a lot at times!

What do you want your container garden to do?

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