With a little annual maintenance to your container plants, you can avoid a lot of hassle and headache!
The key is to stay ahead of the root growth of your plants. Check your potted plants regularly to make sure that their roots haven’t outgrown the pot. You can do this easily by checking to see if there are roots growing upon the surface or peeking out of the drainage hole.
For a large tree, shrub or plant where you want to inspect the roots more closely, you can do this by laying the pot on its side and gently removing the plant.
If you see that the plant’s roots have filled up the pot, then you generally have two choices: Re-pot in the same pot using the technique of root pruning and adding fresh potting soil. Or, you can step-up your pot, using a slightly larger sized container, which will allow your plant(s) roots and canopy to continue growing in size. In general, early spring and fall tend to be the best times to re-pot because of slower growth.
Generally you’ll want to re-pot when it’s necessary. This will depend also upon what type of plants you have, how fast they grow, and their cultural needs. Though not the norm, some plants enjoy being slightly root bound. Tropical birds of paradise (Strelizia reginae) is a good example. They tends to flower better when their roots are slightly confined. I’ve found the same to be true with Cymbidium orchids.
If you want to go for the lower maintenance approach, choose trees, shrubs, vines with a slower growth rate. As an example, choosing a moderate grower like Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) over a very fast growing Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’) will keep you from getting a headache.
Feeding container plants
Potted plants live in a more sterile and artificial environment than plants in the ground. They can require more fertilization too, and chemical fertilizers can cause salts to build up in the soil making it toxic to your plants. These need to be leached out occasionally to keep from burning the roots and getting toxic. Flush the soil with water.
I like to use organic fertilizers (for the most part). This helps to minimize the hassle. Organic fertilizers also help to improve the soil versus deteriorating it. Choices on the market are much better, and far more available than in the past. However, for peace of mind, I almost always use a slow release fertilizer (not organic) like Osmocote, to enable myself to step away knowing that the essential plant nutrients are being delivered should life get busy. I really prefer to keep it simple and easy. If you are growing food in containers, pick up an organic fertilizer. Those nasty chemicals are bad for all of us – our pets, kids, wildlife.
Osmocote – slow release fertilizer granules provide all three major nutrients (NPK) to your plants for up to four months. Just sprinkle some into your containers as directed and water in. Every time you water, more fertilizer will be released. Place a Plant Caddy under your planters to make them easy to move around. Made of durable nylon with steel wheels, the plant caddy holds up to 500 pounds. One wheel locks to keep your pots in place. If you don’t need to move your containers, Pot Feet or Pot Risers are recommended to protect your deck; also, to provide better drainage and air circulation.