Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Assessing a Potted Plant's Pot Size

By Christina VanGinkel

While I was recently hospitalized, a good friend dropped off at my home a beautiful hanging plant, an ornamental geranium in a pot that was about eight inches across, which was abundantly overflowing with flowers. My husband, the true gardener in the family, hung it out on a cast iron hanging bar we have situated in the yard just for such a plant. He watered it, and a few days later, he even thought to add a bit of plant food. He then paid it no more attention for the next few days as he was busy with the mundane chores around the house that I usually handle, along with visiting me in the hospital.

When I arrived home a few days after the plant was delivered, it was still in its original lovely condition. Then, about two days later, my husband, and I both realized that it was not weathering all that well after all. The leaves were turning yellow, and the flowers that had already bloomed were dropping off quickly. The leaves that were still green looked wilted, and the buds not yet opened did not look in good shape either. The problem did not appear to be a watering issue, as the soil around it did not appear to be overly wet or too dry. We did come up with two issues, seemingly related to each other, that upon further reflection, we felt were the cause of the problems.

The first issue was that the pot that the plant was in was too small for the size of the plant. While it came to us in beautiful condition, the root structure was obviously too large, and was running out of soil. Yes, there was still soil in the pot, but when we really examined it up close, we realized that the root structure was taking up all of the soil space, and even edging out and over in some spots, as it searched for room to expand. The greenhouse that sold the plant I am sure felt that the eight inch sized pot only worked to highlight how big and blooming the plant was, where transplanting it to a larger pot, say one that was twelve inches across, would have made it appear not as full and lush.

Secondly, we ran into an issue that seems to relate to the first issue somewhat. My husband had hung the plant in an area that was full sun. From the minute the sun rose, until it set, the plant was never in shade. While some flowering plants flourish under such conditions, as should this one have as an ornamental geranium that called for full sun on its accompanying stake, with the pot size so small, and even though it was receiving, what we thought was adequate watering, it was not. With most of the soil space being used up by the root structure, there really was not enough soil to retain moisture. This caused the plant to react the same as if it should not have been in full sun.

We treated the problems by temporarily hanging the potted plant in a somewhat less direct path of the sun, under the eave of our small back porch, and then repotting it to a larger pot. In just a matter of days, it is regaining its glorious foliage and the buds are once again opening and look beautiful. It has been moved back out to its original location where it can receive an almost continual dose of sunlight, which this time it appears to be thriving in.

I would have felt terrible if the next time my friend stopped by for a visit; the plant she had given me had died or even looked as bad as it did when we noticed how sadly it was weathering. If you are struggling with a potted plant's health, even one that is a new purchase, and that you would think would be in an adequately sized container; be sure to assess the situation yourself, as they may not be in large enough containers after all. Secondary conditions such as the sun and the amount of moisture the current pot is able to hold can make a container that would otherwise be large enough, not big enough in reality.

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