Pot Plants Generally Burn Out

Small conifers grow into big trees.

Pot plants are very different from common potted plants. Potted plants sustain healthy growth within pots or similar containers. They can range from small houseplants to small trees in big tubs out in the elements. Those that do not live for long in a particular pot before outgrowing it can continue to live in increasingly larger pots. They are considered to be sustainable, rather than temporary.

Pot plants, conversely, are generally expendable. They come into the home or office at their prime, but stay only as long as they continue to perform. For some, this may not be more than a month or so. They typically live their entire brief lifetimes within their original pots. Many endured forcing techniques that are difficult to recover from. Some are little more than uncut cut flowers with roots.

Most pot plants are seasonal. Most are seasonal at Christmas time. These include poinsettias, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, azaleas, hollies, cyclamen, rosemary (in conical ‘Christmas tree’ form) and live Christmas trees. Chrysanthemums were seasonal for autumn. Miniature roses will be in season for Saint Valentine’s Day. Easter lilies and hydrangeas will be seasonal in time for Easter.

Recovery from forcing techniques that are necessary to grow unnaturally showy pot plants is not impossible. It just might be difficult. That is why most poinsettias, Easter lilies and miniature roses rarely survive in the garden. Some pot plants, particularly azaleas and hydrangeas, are cultivars that excel as pot plants, but not in a garden. Christmas cactus and hollies are more likely to thrive.

Some types of live Christmas trees are likely to survive as well. That may not be an advantage. Dwarf Alberta spruce can remain potted as a live Christmas tree for several years, and then do well in the garden. Other spruces may remain potted for a few years, but then demand more space in the garden. Most other live Christmas trees either do not recover in the garden, or grow too large, such as Italian stone pine or Canary Island pine.


80314This is an extreme bloomer! Cineraria, Pericallis X hybrida, blooms with composite flowers, which means that each small daisy flower is really a whole bunch of minute flowers clustered together to look like a single flower. As if this were not impressive enough, a whole bunch of these composite flowers are clustered together on top of each big wide floral truss. They are not easy to ignore.

Blue, red, purple or pink bloom can be so profuse that the rich green basal foliage is only visible around the edges and below the domed trusses. Individual flowers usually (but not always) have white halos around dark centers. The soft leaves below are somewhat wide and rounded, with variably toothed margins. Big plants can get as high and wide as a foot. Some are more compact.

Cinerarias are most often obtained while blooming, enjoyed as potted plants, and then discarded after bloom, although with a bit of effort and shelter from frost and heat, they can be sustained as potted perennials to bloom again. They can be grown as short term bedding plants after frost in spring, but they require a slight bit of partial shade, regular watering and richly organic medium.

Potted Plants Going To Pot

80314thumbIt seems like such a waste that so many of the prettiest blooming plants are generally regarded as temporary. They are grown in the most synthetic of environments, forced into bloom, sold at their prime, and kept as potted plants just long enough to finish their bloom cycle. When their bloom deteriorates, they typically get discarded, or planted out into the garden where they rarely survive.

Poinsettias epitomize these flowering potted plants, which are known in the nursery industry simply as pot plants. Almost all of us have given or received them as gifts or decorated our home with them prior to Christmas. Although they are not considered to be annuals, few survive as houseplants, and almost none survive in the garden. No one wants to admit to what happens to the rest.

Okay, so it is not really a big loss. Poinsettias do not do well here anyway; and even if they survive, they are not as appealing in the landscape as they are as pot plants. What about all the others? Easter lilies, chrysanthemums, amaryllis, hydrangeas, orchids, azaleas, miniature roses, kalanchoes and even a few evergreens and living Christmas trees are all grown as forced potted plants.

It is important to be aware that all of these forced plants were grown in very synthetic environments, in which temperature, humidity and perhaps even day length were manipulated to coerce the plants to bloom, or for evergreens to be as lush as they are. Some were stunted with growth regulators. Recovering from such manipulation takes some time and effort, but for most, it is possible.

Of course, they all have their own personalities, and require different sorts of pampering. Some only need their old flowers to be pruned away, and will be able to produce new foliage that is adapted to their new environment. Amaryllis starts out without foliage, so has the advantage of making all new foliage after bloom. Chrysanthemum will eventually want to be cut back to favor new basal foliage. Easter lily foliage should be left while it dies back slowly until dormancy. New foliage grows next year.