I don't know about you, but I grow a LOT of plants in pot. A LOT. Some seem to perform better in pots, others need to move around the house or the garden depending on seasonal lighting, and some just look better.

Most plants grown in pots like to get crowded in the pot before being replanted. Over-potting (putting a plant into a pot that's too large) is the number three killer of plants (after over-watering and over-fertilizing). Over-potting is a serious offense when it comes to plants as it can lead to rot, fungus, bacterial nastiness and all sorts of trouble for our plants.

I know, I know. It's totally counter-intuitive. How can a philodendron that grows in the endless ground in the wild, or in warm-winter landscapes develop problems in a pot that's too large?? Basically it comes down to the artificiality of growing in a pot--solid sides, often deep, and occasionally an overly caring gardener. The issue occurs when a plant with a small root ball is suddenly planted in a huge pot of soil (potting soil, hopefully!). The large pot now has a large space of potting soil between the plant's small root ball and the edge of the pot. When watered frequently, that uninhabited soil stays wet for too long (because the small root ball hasn't had time to grow out into the new soil). When soil stays wet for too long, it's an open invitation to fungus, mold, and bacteria to move in. The lesson here? Let's move our plants up into pots that are only slightly larger than their current pots. A pot that's two inches larger than the current pot, gives the rootball one inch of new soil to colonize all the way around. That's plenty, and it's small enough that the roots can move in to the new soil before trouble sets in.

So let's agree, let's move our plants up only into slightly larger pots than their current pots. That's absolutely the safest policy. The downside? If a plant has a lot of foliage, or stems, or thorns, that spread out, it can be hard to get soil "down" into the new small crevice between the current root ball and the new pot's edge. I can't tell you how many leaves I've accidentally snapped, or stems that I've broken, by trying to use my fingers to press down potting soil into the vacant space between a root ball and its new pot.

The solution? Silverware. Yup, silverware. Okay, not SILVERware, but some sort of dining flatware. NOTHING is better than the back end of a dinner knife for helping push new soil down between a root ball and a pot's inner edge. NOTHING. If the pot is the same size as the old pot the actual non-sharp knife blade will work nicely (like when you repot from plastic to terracotta, or any change between pots of the same size). I've used forks to tease out roots before planting plants into pots or into soil. I measure fertilizers with teaspoons, and yup, I even divide densely grown plants with a long, sharp, serrated bread knife, cutting right down a rootball in a merciful second, rather than hacking and yanking on it for minutes with my hands.

Of course, I'm not suggesting you use your good kitchenware to do these tasks (though as a born and bred gardener I wouldn't mind, actually), so head on out to your nearest garage sale, or discount store, or thrift store (thank you, Goodwill!) and pick up the basics: a teaspoon, a tablespoon, a non-sharp dinner knife, and a nice long serrated bread knife and have at it. I'm telling you, setting the table for gardening sure beats using a dibble, or your fingers, for some of our finer gardening tasks. The easiest way to store them is to fill a pot or jar with builder's sand (playground sand) and jab the silverware in it when not in use.

Here's a quick pic of just a few of my gardening silverware. Not pictured are some large fiberglass salad bowls from the 1970's for mixing soil (they seem to last longer in the sunlight than plastic), several serrated knives, and a very nice selection of forks (and as with eating, I categorically refuse to use forks with an even-number of tines; I don't trust them).

So, set your potting bench for dinner, and let me know how it works.
Happy gardening!

Views: 37

Tags: dibble, fork, fungus, houseplants, knife, re-potting, repotting, silverware, spoon


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Comment by Catherine Cronin (Ireland) on March 14, 2012 at 1:10pm

Great blog,Grant. I have a small and big spoon and a fork somewhere in the garden..LOL!

Comment by Grant, Scottsdale,Arizona Zone 9 on March 14, 2012 at 12:40pm

Thanks for the nice comments, I appreciate it!  Lila, it's hard to say if your plans are for a pot that's too big without seeing everything, but in general plants like to be a bit crowded before being moved up to a new pot.  I love perlite and/or pumice too, for aerating the soil mix.  I add lots and lots of it, even here where the humidity is low.  I think the roots really enjoy having some extra air space in the soil that perlite and pumice provide.  Looking forward to more pics, comments and posts from both of you.  Thanks again, happy gardening! :)

Comment by Fran Barnett on March 14, 2012 at 10:51am

great idea! I will definitely be using this one!


Comment by Grant, Scottsdale,Arizona Zone 9 on January 30, 2012 at 8:20am

Hah!  Thanks for looking and commenting, Cindy, I appreciate it.  Good luck with that ZZ plant, let folks know what you do and how it works out.  Happy gardening!!

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