Potted Plant Basics from ISU Extension

The Iowa State Extension and Outreach of Dallas County provides research-based information on various topics—including horticulture. The Master Gardener program allows for citizens to become formally trained, participate in community projects and become experts in all things lawn and garden. The following are their tips on planting and caring for potted plants, whether placed indoor or outdoor.
There are many reasons to garden in containers. Not only can they be a charming piece of décor on a backyard porch or by a front door, but they are mobile and can be moved around the home or when weather demands it. It’s also possible to grow vegetables in outdoor containers, allowing for a self-sustaining source of food (for more information on suitable vegetables for this method, search for publication PM 870B on the Iowa State Extension store).
To begin a potted creation, it’s important to know where the plant’s intended location will be. This will help determine what type of flower to purchase as some foliage requires more light than others. Consider what plants you are pairing. Do they have different light requirements? If so, it may be best to separate them. This will ensure the plants flourish and will result in more beauty added to different spaces within or outside of the home.
The next step is selecting a container. These can be made out of a variety of materials including plastic, ceramic, old wood barrels and window boxes. Due to their porosity, clay pots are optimal because they allow air movement but for the same reason can dry out quicker. Whatever the material, drainage holes are needed to avoid overflooding and help the plant breathe.
When planting in the selected display container, use a mix of products including potting soil, peat moss and perlite. Garden soil alone becomes too compact, not allowing for proper aeration, and it also tends to pull away from the sides of the container as it dries, making it difficult for good watering.
Spacing is another consideration to take into mind. In a traditional garden bed or landscape, plants require a certain amount of spacing in order to grow, but this specified number is halved when placed in a container. For example, if a flower requires six inches of space in a bed, it only needs 3 inches in a pot. Place the plants in as deep as the pack they were purchased in and water thoroughly after transplantation.
Getting into the habit of watering is a must for potted plants. Before purchasing, find out the suggested water intake for each plant. Some flowers such as impatiens do well in moist soils while petunias prefer drier conditions—a good thing to remember in addition to lighting when planning your arrangements. Check the moisture daily by poking a finger in the soil. If it feels dry about one to two inches deep, it’s time to water. Appropriate watering has occurs when water can be seen flowing out of the pot’s holes.
General maintenance of container plants includes removing dried leaves, pruning and cutting back stems. Regular soluble fertilization is also recommended to add back in the nutrient frequent watering can sometimes wash out.
For additional information or questions, contact the ISU Extension Hortline at (515) 294-3108 or hortline@iastate.eduto speak to horticulture specialists about your gardening needs and questions.

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