Houseplants forum: Combining plants in a pot

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Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
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Cinta
Nov 9, 2014 10:55 AM CST
I like to combine plants in pots for two reasons.

1. It gives me more space to collect more plants.
2. I am a gardener and it makes my houseplants look like a garden in doors.

Tiffany does this best. I have seen some really good examples through her post.

Do you combine your houseplants? What has done good together for you?

I have been able to do it pretty successful with succulents because they usually want the same treatment of sun and soil.

Now I am working on the tree thing with the Bromelaids.

This morning I was eyeing the new Croton I picked up and I saw this one in a hanging basket at Lowes I am thinking of putting some Hoya cuttings in a hanging basket with this plant.

This is the croton I am referring to. It reminded me of a colorful Spider plant when I saw it in the hanging basket. As the thin leaves of this croton get longer they hang down like a spider plant.

Thumb of 2014-11-09/Cinta/0b822b

Name: Cheryl
Kingwood, Texas (Zone 9a)
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ShadyGreenThumb
Nov 9, 2014 1:07 PM CST
My husband likes combined plants in pots. I think they do that a lot in the NW where he is from. To me, it is more work to combine like characteristics of water and sunlight.
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Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
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plantladylin
Nov 9, 2014 2:06 PM CST
Many, many years ago I always combined houseplants because I liked the looks of full pots and different combinations but it got to be too much when some plants grew so fast that the roots crowded out other plants in the container making it necessary to repot. I've always been a rather lazy gardener (even with indoor houseplants) and some of the plants in combo containers would end up dying because I'd let them go so long without repotting. I do sometimes have succulent bowls with plants of like size and need planted together.
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Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
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Cinta
Nov 9, 2014 5:59 PM CST
ShadyGreenThumb, Lin you both have such longer growing seasons. I do not have many plants outgrowing the pots for a good long time. *Blush*

I get the most growth in the summer when everything goes outside for summer vacation.
Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
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plantladylin
Nov 9, 2014 7:07 PM CST
Yes, it is true that here in Florida we have a very long growing season ... even more so the farther south in the state that you go.
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Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Nov 10, 2014 12:23 AM CST
I combine some of my succulents together, but usually of the same type, like different kinds of Aeonium together, or maybe different types of cacti together. Though I am slowly adding and mixing in different types together that I know have similar dormancy times. It saves me the frustration of potential overwatering. But there are just some types that are happier on their own container, a singular beauty of its own.

I guess you can put your croton together with an Hoya, but just know first if that Hoya is the type that likes more water or the type that likes to dry out a bit. My hoyas are potted separately, have noticed that these three I have shows different preferences with their watering, media and lighting needs.
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Nov 10, 2014 8:49 AM CST
This is something that happened to me over the course of years, mostly dabbling lightly with 2-plant combos sporadically and periodically over the past 15 years or so, then much more heavily into combos of up to 15 plants over the past few years, so I perfectly understand how odd it may sound to those who haven't considered doing it, or have no idea what to do. And am absolutely NOT saying there's anything wrong with any planting that has only 1 plant. I do still have several of those, and not every eye appreciates the wilder side of things. I am not saying anyone who currently isn't doing it should combine their plants if they don't already want to, or have doubts about it going well. Just providing some thoughts for those who are interested. I believe plants pick up our vibes, and that doubt often leads to failure, so should be respected if one is feeling that way.

For those who don't repot plants every year or 2 anyway, creating a combo with 1 plant that grows a lot faster than the others could be frustrating, but I do repot often and change partners/combos as necessary when doing that. (Or just take cuttings to share with others, if there's too much mass before it's time to repot.) I never go into a combo assuming the same plants will always be partners, just that I think they should be for the next year, and sometimes just for over winter (then to be put back in the ground for summer.) Trying to decide a combo for the rest of the plants' lives is daunting, I don't put that much pressure on myself.

At this point, I don't have a choice about combining plants, unless I want to get rid of more than half of them. I managed to consolidate into about 10 less pots this summer, for a total inside at the moment of about 80. There's no way I could find space for another 150 or so pots, and I know from experience that I don't get along well with small pots. Too clumsy, I knock them over so often, the plants rarely survive that experience at my house.

Combining has really helped me a lot, I think, since I tend to overwater plants. I don't think my technique has improved that much, and attribute the now rare death of plants to enjoying their combos. A packed pot dries much more quickly, and it can get pretty cold in my house, down to 50-55, which can cause plants to stay too moist forever if there's not a lot of plant mass (either from one plant being very large, or because there are multiple individuals sharing the space.)

Everything from Philodendrons to Opuntia are all in the most airy, chunky, porous mix I have available when repotting. I can't add dry, or cause drying to happen more quickly by doing something/anything to plants, but I can add water as often as needed. Since I use the same stuff in the pots for all plants, sun exposure is the main thing I use to choose plants to combine, and whether or not they appreciate drying out or would prefer to stay moist. Once those things match, it's just a matter of choosing those that use different 'air space,' and I do a lot of purposeful sideways leaning, instead of everything going straight upright.

Most plants are either upright, or dangling, leaving a lot of unused space if potted alone. When combining the 2 types, one gets the most use of the space each pot takes up, especially of concern for those of us who have to bring them inside for winter, and don't live in huge houses. Also, as said, I just like the look of 'mini jungles' and the more I do this, the more I develop a dislike for being able to see the soil at the surface of any pot. Not because it's inherently unattractive, but I just see 'empty space' where more plants could be.

Since using the plan of "stick it wherever it will fit in an existing pot" for about any/all cuttings, the success rate has gone up even more. With an existing root system of other plants surrounding a cutting, the worry of the cutting rotting before it can populate a pot with roots is eliminated.

I've uploaded a decent number of multi-plant pics, mostly potted plants. They also show up on the individual plants that are labeled. If folks look at the plants they have in the database here, they may see a combo pot below the single-plant pics for that entry.

About your specific combo question, IDK anything about Crotons, except that I can kill one as fast as anybody, and haven't brought one home to death row for about 20 years. I do have 4 Hoyas, but haven't had them around long enough to give much combining advice about those in particular.

This is one I've had for about 18 months, H. curtisii. Its' habit is to go straight over the edge, no height at all. By this spring, it was mostly naked on top, leaving a lot of vertical empty space in its' pot, so I added cuttings of Begonia, Epiphyllum, Easter cactus, Tradescantia cerinthoides, at various times, and a couple weeks ago, a few last pieces of Coleus that I'd like to try to save until spring. This pot is way too small for this to last long, but should be OK until spring. Sorry these pics aren't great, it's hanging slightly above eye level.

Thumb of 2014-11-10/purpleinopp/628035
Thumb of 2014-11-10/purpleinopp/b6a004

Plants that I don't think need a partner, at least the way I have them planted...
- Giant Aroids like shrubby & tree Philodendrons, Monstera deliciosa
- Heart-leaf Philo vine, just grows so much faster than any other vines I have
- Tall Sansevieria - too tall to hang, leaving insufficient space for a dangling partner. They also take over the entire surface area so quickly.
- Callisia fragrans - very successful at using vertical AND dangling space. But, I have started experimenting with sticking pieces of this in the sides of hanging pots that I add holes to. Can it be just a dangler? IDK, but will see...
- Parlor palm, same as Sans, would need a pedestal to use a dangler, and also very dark under these, and they already go in my most shady spots.
- Billbergia (queen's tears.) Had for about 13 months, starting to see that its' pups are going to come up under/through/on the other side of any partners, and possibly push them right out of the pot. The Cryptanthus I put in the pot with this will need a new home in the spring (if the romance even lasts that long.)
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Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
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plantladylin
Nov 10, 2014 9:58 AM CST
I think the most important thing when planting combination pots is to be sure all plants have the same requirements, i.e. one wouldn't want to plant a succulent/cactus that requires little water with a palm or something that requires lots of moisture.
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Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Nov 10, 2014 10:50 AM CST
Also being prepared to do the extra work that comes with it, it will always be there. As long as you set your heart to it, and ready to do the extra maintenance required of trimming, watering and repot it would be a truly fun and rewarding showcase of plant combinations.

For the most part, I notice some really do not consider the cultural requirements of some plants, so just have to do our due diligence too in researching which plants can go together. Our individual micro climates is such..may be fantastic in your side but thoroughly dismal on my side.

Sometimes some people think planting succulents is no maintenance planting..that's totally wrong..low maintenance compared to the regular plants maybe but there would always be something that needs to be done. Knowing when to give them more light or giving them the casual loving neglect to allow them to thrive. Always a learning curve Big Grin Sometimes I cringe when I see combinations of tropical succulents with desert type succulents...a recipe for disaster..one or the other will for sure die..different watering and lighting needs. And most people do not care..they just look how cute the plants go together, and wonder later why one just rotted out.
Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
Region: United States of America Morning Glories Region: Florida Houseplants Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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plantladylin
Nov 10, 2014 11:05 AM CST
tarev said: Sometimes I cringe when I see combinations of tropical succulents with desert type succulents...a recipe for disaster..one or the other will for sure die..different watering and lighting needs. And most people do not care..they just look how cute the plants go together, and wonder later why one just rotted out.


I agree Doing the necessary research and using plants that require the same needs makes for long lasting plantings!

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Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Cinta
Nov 10, 2014 12:05 PM CST
Excellent Tiffany. You should submit it as an article.

Callisia fragrans is a plant I grew up with. I did not think of why my urge to combine plants all the time until you reminded me of my Mom put that plant in every pot in the house. It was in hanging baskets, it was in the pot with the peace lily. Because someone would always knock a piece off and she would say "No Problem" and stick the broken piece in another pot. She used it as a hanging plant, and as a ground cover around other plants.

I have very few single plant pots. It is mostly because of age and not enough room. I do not want to carry a bunch of pots in for the winter and I do not want to have to water that many pots. I am too busy to and to lazy to water pots, empty saucers, wipe up water under hundreds of pots.
Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
Region: United States of America Morning Glories Region: Florida Houseplants Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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plantladylin
Nov 10, 2014 1:03 PM CST
Tiffany: Callisia fragrans is a great "dangler" plant! Was it you who posted a photo awhile back where you'd cut holes in the sides of a pot and had Callisia pups planted in the holes? I thought that was a great idea, I can just picture them covering an entire pot and dangling out the top, over the edge and down the sides! A few years ago I had two pots of Callisia in this double metal planter on my patio and the trailing stems ended up touching the ground and taking root in the soil of a flower bed next to the pool. I ended up pulling them all out. It's listed as a category II invasive here in Florida. I have a few growing behind my deck amidst a Monstera deliciosa and other stuff and so far they are contained to that flower bed. I had one of the variegated ones that I put in the ground and it took over a huge area and was so pretty but the dog trampled it all down and we dug them all out and threw them away. I really wish I'd kept one of the variegated ones because they are really pretty. This a picture of the double planter from three years ago:


Another one that takes over but much more so than the Callisia is Cashmere Bouquet (Clerodendrum bungei) over that bed and the lawn outside the bed and growing up through the wood deck. Grumbling Don't get me started on that one. I keep telling my husband we need to get out there and try to dig it all out ... the blooms are fragrant and so pretty but it is extremely invasive and has already taken over and killed Pentas and Lantana and some other things in one bed.


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Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
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Cinta
Nov 10, 2014 1:12 PM CST
Lin that is a beautiful planter. I love pots as much as I love plants. A beautiful planter can make a plant.

When I see people say they want a plant for inside I always think they should start with the pot then find the plant. I think even more so when you are looking for a plant as a decorating element in your home. I have two large planters in my living room that are for decoration and my love of plants but the pots are the attraction.
[Last edited by Cinta - Nov 10, 2014 1:23 PM (+)]
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Name: Lin
Florida (Zone 9b)
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plantladylin
Nov 10, 2014 1:31 PM CST
Cinta said:I love pots as much as I love plants. A beautiful planter can make a plant.


Thumbs up I love containers too and I totally agree that the right container can really set off a plant and make it look great! That double metal planter is currently hanging on my screened porch with nothing in it ... I really need to find just the right plants for it.

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Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Nov 10, 2014 3:01 PM CST
If one is using a soil that allows roots to rot easily, I think that would be the primary issue one would want to address for any kind of growing, companions or not, an easy thing to change. If one isn't having issues with rotting roots, there's no logical reason for combining plants, in and of itself, to create one.

The rotting of roots isn't about how much water a person puts into soil, but about the amount of oxygen present while it is moist and whether or not the excess moisture escapes the root zone, combined with how long it takes to dry out (assuming temp is within acceptable range.) Roots need oxygen and moisture at the same time to function. Some plants would love to stay moist all of the time, as long as there is also oxygen, but the roots of succulent plants & cacti can rot if moisture is always present. So, doing whatever is humanly possible so that the soil for C/S plants in particular dries as quickly as possible seems like a very good idea to me.

This is where myths like, "likes to be pot/rootbound" come from. No plant likes to be rootbound. What they like is for their roots to NOT rot. Having very little soil, even of a type that can easily rot roots, makes it more difficult/unlikely for even the most dedicated plant-overwaterers to rot the roots of their plants. This is not ideal, just a way of coping with inappropriate "ingredients" and/or textures in a pot. There is no one thing folks can put in to make soil better, but removing tiny particles of any type will definitely help.

I gave up trying to walk the overwatering tightrope years ago by stopping the use of potting soils that allow roots to rot, so don't generally worry about doing this to any plants anymore, except in cases of being outside during daily rains (for plants that don't want to stay moist, need to dry out.)

I also wonder about combining those of various moisture needs, and have been doing a lot of it the past year to see what happens. It is because some roots can rot so easily that I've made an effort to combine succulents in particular. Those that use moisture much more quickly would help wick moisture away from the others that can't absorb it as quickly, or just don't use it as quickly, whichever the case may be. Unless they passed from memory upon death, (which would be noticed by its' presence on my plant list but not growing in my pots, its' carcass) no succulents have died over the past 2 years from being combined with others that like more moisture. I believe the opposite, that they are able to survive living with my tendency to think plants are always thirsty, and in the climate of steamy, dewy, sometimes very rainy south AL, because they have companions to help dry things out as quickly as possible.

The traditional flower pot shape, much more deep than wide, can be a death trap for plants that have insignificant root systems compared to the size of the mass above the soil. Without a companion plant that can grow roots all the way to the bottom, the size of pot needed to keep some succulents upright is often much too big for the roots to dry in a timely manner simply by virtue of the large volume, regardless of texture. Logically, if one keeps adding more plants to a pot, regardless of the soil type/texture, each will help it dry that much more quickly.

Combining Coleus, for example, with such plants as Begonias, Dracaenas, and various epiphytic jungle cacti has produced no ill results. No wilting Coleus, no rotting of the other plants. I don't have various conditions or soil mixes to offer, beyond light exposure and watering frequency. Regardless of pot size, soil mix, or companions, all plants get the same care - the amount of light that makes them look best, water when dry. The only thing separating them when not potted together is simply being in separate pots.

As far as I know, although I have many plants that behave wildly differently depending on season, I don't have any plants that have temporary dormancies that require a ritual alteration in their care, a level of difficulty that doesn't interest me. But if I did (or do,) they would have the choice of surviving the same experience as all of the other plants or dying because the conditions I have to offer aren't conducive to their survival. I don't see how being combined or alone would have any effect on that, a separation of nothing more than a few inches in the same conditions. But obviously, if one has plants that need to be regarded with seasonal rituals, it would be important to not combine those that wouldn't also appreciate being subjected to the ritual. Excellent point.

Lin, I have Callisia fragrans alone in several pots. My comment about it dangling was wondering what it will do if *only* dangling from the side of a pot, from a hole cut in the side of a hanging pot. I can't envision any other way to use it in combo with other plants if I hope a grouping will last for a year. It just grows too fast and strongly for a companion used at the same soil level to compete or augment, that I can imagine anyway. If anyone has any combo planters that have Callisia fragrans, I'd love to see them!

Yes it does dangle well - so well I'd never considered using it in any pot but a hanging one until recently. A couple weeks ago, I changed a hanging pot of it over to a trellis, just to see how it will age... and with a vision of it covered with flowers from all different heights in a few months. The novelty of guiding the runners up the trellis may get old before it goes back outside too.


Edited to add: Lin, I think you could sell that other plant you mentioned. Folks love FL weeds! Most potted house plants fit in that category for most of the rest of us.

So...! Cinta, I'd LOVE to have seen what your Mom was doing with this plant, and her other plants. It sounds like she liked to manipulate and mess with them like I do - often, and often in unconventional ways, often on impulse.

TY for the compliment. I hardly feel qualified to write an article, I'm just tripping merrily down the experimental primrose path... Not trying to lead or follow, just doin' my wild, weird thang... ;)

It's definitely not an issue with only 'pros,' So what are some combo cons? Here are some I recognize, or have experienced.
- It's now hard to take a pic of most of my plants as individuals. If I drop a pot, forget one's out in the cold, or an animal molests one, pests show up - any kind of single-pot tragedy, it's a much greater ordeal/loss.
- Many individuals lose their symmetry, adapting/adjusting to available spaces like pieces of a puzzle.
- It's hard to figure out how to pick some of them up, where my hands might fit.
- It is more difficult to inspect every surface of many plants.
- At any given time, I can't see a lot of my plants unless I turn/move the pot. Cool for the change of scene when rotated, but could be bothersome. Because of this, it's also harder to make sure everything has enough light while inside. After only a couple weeks, I've rotated plants more already than I would over an entire winter a few years ago.
- When you stick cuttings in the (enlarged) drain holes of hanging baskets, they can't be put on the ground at all. This creates more logistical difficulties than I'd anticipated.
- If the wind blows over a pot, there's more damage and breakage.

None of what has been discussed is inherently good or bad, and same points can be both, depending on the eye of the beholder, so to speak. Just interesting differences and options that, if known and well discussed, folks can manipulate to best suit their sense of aesthetics and amusement, level of patience, available space and conditions, assortment of plants, whatever factors may be in play. Putting a plant in a pot at all is a grand manipulation, IMO, with anything in addition being just tweaking of how that's done. And as is said often, if we all did things the same way, there would be no fun discussions or surprising and fun pics! No opportunities to seek inspiration. That would be so sad!
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[Last edited by purpleinopp - Nov 10, 2014 3:03 PM (+)]
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Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
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Cinta
Nov 10, 2014 7:54 PM CST
I never use Callisia fragrans in a pot alone. I have it in the big pots that are pretty tall that have my tree type plants like my Rubber Tree plants. When the stems get long I pull some up and lay them surrounding the plant. Sort of like a ground cover. Some are hanging down but not long enough to touch the ground or the floor.

Or like the one that turned purple that I posted this summer. It gets stuck into the summer pots as just an extra plant so that my summer pot are full.

I try to plant my summer pots on the patio like I would plant my gardens.

I have a superstition that I think works. I say superstition because there is no logical reason why it works. If I see a plant is looking like it is dying I stick a piece of Aloe Vera plant in the pot 98% of the time the plant starts to come back and survive *Blush*

Plantomaniac08
Nov 10, 2014 8:55 PM CST
Cinta,
That's interesting, I wonder why that is (with the Aloe)?

Planto
Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Cinta
Nov 11, 2014 12:07 PM CST
Plantomaniac08 said:Cinta,
That's interesting, I wonder why that is (with the Aloe)?

Planto


I know I do not know why it works for me. I think it is one of two things. If the soil is too moist it probably sucks out some of the water or it helps to heal the roots of the sick plant. That is my story. Rolling on the floor laughing

I used it on a begonia, my fireflash was down to one leaf and I used it on that those are the ones that come to mind that it worked in the last two years.

Plantomaniac08
Nov 11, 2014 2:38 PM CST
Cinta,
That's cool! I will have to remember that if I have an ailing plant. See if your luck will rub off on me somehow. Smiling

I just brought an Aloe vera "back to life" after purchasing it on clearance for $2, so I have one around I could use. Poor thing lost about 3/4 of its roots to rot. It's sitting in one of my nifty chick-fil-a pots. *Blush* It has new roots busting out of the holes in the bottom of the pot and is beginning to grow, so I know its going to be okay.

I do wonder why certain plants perform better with other plants and seem to decline with others. I see certain combination planters at Lowes and some almost seem to decline immediately and others are still chugging away months later.

Planto
Name: Holly Cooper
Covington, LA (Zone 8b)
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BayouBeadery
Nov 13, 2014 1:26 PM CST
Hi. I just found my way over to ATP from another site. Been out of the garden forum loop for a while. I love mixed pots but I agree that they're more work. You have to not be shy about repotting or playing "swap the plant" when one thing outgrows another. I do always think of what plants will be compatible before I pot them together. Light and water and such. Fine Gardening Magazine had an issue called "Container Gardening" during the summer that had some absolutely beautiful combos. We are moving soon and I can't wait to try some of their ideas. If you can find a copy, it's pretty inspiring. They have a combo pot with a pink princess philo that's first on my "to do" list.

I'll have to try the aloe thing the next time I have an ailing plant!

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