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Gardening in pots

Alison Aplin

Alison Aplin

January 8, 2012

I have a love of nurturing plants in pots. It is something that for me goes back to childhood. In my former home in the Clare Valley in South Australia, I found that provided enough winter protection was given, succulents did really well. We carted literally hundreds of potted plants, mostly in terracotta, to our new home in SW Victoria. Many of these plants have since failed.

Beschorneria rigida in large terracotta pot

The climate in our new home not only is significantly cooler during summer, but the winter is very different – more like when we lived in the Adelaide Hills. The winters are very cold, though not as frosty, but there is constant moisture in the air during winter which causes many plants to rot. Many of these succulents have since rotted. Those that have survived I now place in protected positions out of direct exposure during winter. I’ve also discovered that potted Beschorneria likes the humid coastal air and does really well here.

Pale pink Impatiens in terracotta pot


I love colour in pots; the garden I don’t mind being subdued, especially during summer. But you can do wonderful things with pots. In protected positions around our home, I have different coloured Impatiens growing – all clashing in colour, but I think that it looks good with the resting garden beyond.

Mixed colours of Impatiens in terracotta pot

Surprisingly, Impatiens are not water guzzlers. Hot wind is their main enemy, but given a protected, well-lit area they are absolute value for money.

I find that when my pot plants need too much water, it is usually a sign that they need potting on into a bigger pot or putting into the ground. Exceptions to this rule are lavender, rosemary and similar plants – once they have developed a root system that requires extra water in pots, it is usually too late to keep them growing well. I usually throw them away at this point.

Camellias and citrus do really well in pots, but need to be planted on incrementally. They both have relatively shallow root systems; it is not the depth of the pot that is as important as the width to allow for the expansion of the roots. Once again, once I need to water too often, it is a signal to pot into a bigger size or plant into the ground.

Citrus in pots are big feeders, but need small amounts often i.e. every 6 weeks, being watered in well post feeding. Camellias only need an annual application of Camellia and Azalea plant food for the safest remedy. Both plants need to be potted into acidic potting mix.

Beschorneria tonelana

Beschorneria tonelana

If the soil dries out and water runs down the side of the pot when applying the water, then I use Saturaid granules. What a difference this makes when watering plants. I also use this product on my indoor plants during summer and have found that it makes an enormous difference to the well-being of the plants.

Another product that is recommended in gardens, that also works well for pot plants, especially during heat waves, is Seasol applied with a watering can over the foliage. These products really do make a difference.

While camellias, especially the japonica varieties need wind protection and a degree of shade, citrus need more sunshine, especially northerly exposure. I have seen citrus fruiting in pots under a pergola in quite a bit of shade, but they received winter sunlight from the north as the climbers over the pergola were winter dormant. I was actually quite surprised to see this, thinking the citrus would need more sunlight than this.

Gardening in pots is fun. It is a great way for children to start their gardening journey, learning about over and under watering especially. If the plants fail with the first attempt, start again, maybe with an easier plant for them to try, like marigolds.

Alison Aplin

Alison Aplin

Alison is a passionate, multi award winning sustainable landscape designer, Horticulturist and arborist. She has been the owner and designer of 2 Ecotourism gardens that have both won significant awards. Her writing is based on knowledge, empirical learning which is essential to sustainable ethic, and a questioning mind leading to much research. Her articles are often controversial - with a disclaimer that she is responsible for the written matter, and not Garden Drum. A deeply caring person about the natural environment, Alison's writing endeavours to explain why sustainable landscapes are so important. Without people like her, they will be lost and gardens will become merely concrete