The Inside-Out Garden

The Pot Spot

| February/March 2005

Container Gardening Essentials

An herb gardener whose entire garden is in containers often must take a backseat to a gardener with dirt, in terms of plant growth and variety. But we container gardeners have one clear, undisputed advantage: We can move our potted herbs and houseplants around on a whim.

At this time of year when the seasons change and the weather is due to warm up, if it hasn’t already, think about taking your herbal houseplants on safari to a sheltered spot in the backyard or on a porch. After a winter indoors, chances are good your houseplants are as tired of being cooped up inside as you are. And they probably show it, with spindly stems and leaves dropping off and perhaps an infestation of spider mites. They need a vacation.

Indoors, plants get accustomed to the lower light conditions and drier air of a home heated in the wintertime, and when thrust suddenly into a different world, they protest, sometimes to the point of shriveling up and dying.

So the most critical part of freeing your plants from their winter imprisonment is to give them time to get accustomed to the change. Wait until the spring weather has stabilized and is done with the freeze-thaw cycles that dominate this season in many parts of the country. Cut back any weary or diseased foliage to focus the plant’s energies on new growth. Then do the move gradually, if you can.

Sometimes houseplants that have grown into comfortable, large pots are too heavy to move easily, so it’s impractical to move them in and out every day the way we do with seedlings when we harden them off in preparation for planting. But the idea is the same: Gradually increase their exposure to the harsh outdoor environment to give them time to cope. If you can, move them first for a few days to a protected spot, like a shaded porch, then to a shady spot outdoors, perhaps under a tree canopy or large shrub. Then gradually scoot them to where you want them, where they get enough sunlight to thrive but are still protected from the vagaries of life outdoors.

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