Container gardenin is overrated.

The class of 1985 epitomized the ‘Decade of Decadence’ with the raddest of styles in the wildest of colors. My generation is perhaps more familiar than any other with the pursuit of senseless fads and trends. Now that it is about a quarter of a century later, many of us continue such indulgences in our gardens.

Container gardening has become a fad that, despite its practicality for all sorts of applications, has become so common that it actually makes gardening more work than it should be. Modern homes are built with expansive porches and walkways that are designed to accommodate large urns and other planters, instead of more modest and proportionate porches and walkways that leave more space for planting things in the ground around them. Runoff from the planters stains pavement and rots decking. Besides, all the clutter of planters looks like a garage sale.

For balconies, roof gardens or wherever exposed soil is otherwise unavailable, container gardening may be the only option. Containers also help with plants that need to be moved to sheltered spots during frost. However, few plants are as happy in containers as they would be in the ground. Contrary to popular belief, it is better to amend inferior soil in the ground than to grow plants in potting soil within pots.

Where pots or other containers are necessary, they should either be shaded, or otherwise insulated from the heat of the sun. The black vinyl cans that plants arrive from the nursery in are not only unappealing, but can get warm enough in the sun to roast roots. Yet, they are both obscured and shaded simply by getting placed within slightly larger urns or planters.

Other thin plastic pots can transfer heat like black vinyl, but tend to be cooler because they are most often lighter colors that absorb less heat from sunlight. Thicker materials, such as terracotta, are better insulated. Roots prefer the porosity of unglazed pots, although some glazed pots can stay cooler. Plants within containers are often able to provide their own shade by cascading out over the edges, or spreading out above.

Yet, more substantial plants that provide more substantial shade still need to be complaisant to confinement. Plants that need to disperse their roots will never be comfortable in containers. Neither will plants that are not conducive to pruning, but want to grow into large shrubs or trees.

2 thoughts on “Too much in the garden may be going to pot.

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