Containers forum→The (almost) complete container failure

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bonsai_ben
Aug 21, 2019 8:27 PM CST
Hi! I am failing miserably with my outdoor container garden (the indoor plants are well) and desperately need help.

I live in Atlanta. My condo has a small balcony that is only about 2' deep. It is east facing, with direct sun 4-5 hours, and bright-but-indirect light the rest of the day.

I brought home a number of plants:
- Oriental lily Sunny Bonaire (in bloom)
- Impatiens hawkeri
- Sunpatiens 'Compact White'
' New Guinea Impatiens
- Dalina dahlia
- Vinca
- Gardenia
- Echinacea 'Sombrero'
- Zinnia marylandica
- Madison Star Jasmine
- Gomphrena 'Ping Pong White'
- Portulaca oleracea
- Pentas lanceolata
- Jalapeño
- Spearmint
- Apple mint

I was watering them thoroughly (drained out the bottoms) twice a week, but some shriveled up crispy brown. The garden center said they needed more water, so I took to watering them every other day, as that's how quickly their soil goes from moist to arid. Still, aside from the Lily, Gardenia and Jasmine (not flowering anymore), the Gomphrena and Portulaca, the rest are dead or dying, including the supposedly indestructible pepper and mints.

Part of the problem is likely that they are all still in the plastic containers they came home in. Do I need to put everything up? One size? Should I forego the railing hangers in which I placed the pots (the portulaca seems to like them) and get a couple large deep containers to plant everyone in?

Desperate in Hotlanta.
Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
Quitter's never Win
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oneeyeluke
Aug 30, 2019 2:41 AM CST
Containers hold heat and they have to be protected from the sun. When the plants are in the sun the pots sometimes become too hot for the roots. I cover my plant containers that sit in full sun with shade cloth or in the yard with hay.
When you buy or look at a plant that is in a container always dump it out to get a good look at the roots. And lastly, start small with just a few plants to get the hang of taking care of them. After you master a few plants then get a few more. I think the real problem here is you took on way too many plants at a time.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
Portland, Oregon (Zone 7b)
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Sallymander
Oct 15, 2019 2:29 PM CST
bonsai_ben said:Hi! I am failing miserably with my outdoor container garden (the indoor plants are well) and desperately need help.

I live in Atlanta. My condo has a small balcony that is only about 2' deep. It is east facing, with direct sun 4-5 hours, and bright-but-indirect light the rest of the day.

I brought home a number of plants:
- Oriental lily Sunny Bonaire (in bloom)
- Impatiens hawkeri
- Sunpatiens 'Compact White'
' New Guinea Impatiens
- Dalina dahlia
- Vinca
- Gardenia
- Echinacea 'Sombrero'
- Zinnia marylandica
- Madison Star Jasmine
- Gomphrena 'Ping Pong White'
- Portulaca oleracea
- Pentas lanceolata
- Jalapeño
- Spearmint
- Apple mint

I was watering them thoroughly (drained out the bottoms) twice a week, but some shriveled up crispy brown. The garden center said they needed more water, so I took to watering them every other day, as that's how quickly their soil goes from moist to arid. Still, aside from the Lily, Gardenia and Jasmine (not flowering anymore), the Gomphrena and Portulaca, the rest are dead or dying, including the supposedly indestructible pepper and mints.

Part of the problem is likely that they are all still in the plastic containers they came home in. Do I need to put everything up? One size? Should I forego the railing hangers in which I placed the pots (the portulaca seems to like them) and get a couple large deep containers to plant everyone in?

Desperate in Hotlanta.


Luke makes several good points.

Portulaca loves it hot and dry, so no worries there. Yes, the other's need bigger pots. You might look into "self-watering" planters. Also, mints, once established are voracious growers, so keep them in their own (larger) pots separate from the others.

Name: GERALD
Lockhart, Texas (Zone 8b)
Hydroponics Greenhouse Region: Texas
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IntheHotofTexas
Jun 13, 2020 8:04 AM CST
Some of those will just be fried in the full summer sun, as they would be here in Central Texas. In a container that's in sun, the soil doesn't have the heat sink of the Earth to help moderate the temperature. And when I began building self-watering planters, I realized just how much water a plant can demand, which was a lot more than I had previously been offering them by hand watering.

It may be impossible to not have a drastic wet/dry cycle without frequent hand watering in summer sun. Once roots dry out, it's a real bad deal for the plant. Remember that you changed their environment when you brought them home, so they're under some stress in the best case. Considering your description of the location, I suspect heating and drying is the problem. You may need to give them some shade in summer, at least until they are bigger. Sun shades can be had in squares and triangles, with grommets. Or just as shade cloth, which is usually less drastic shade, because the others are meant to shade people, and shade cloth has to pass sufficient sun for the plants' needs.

They make some things now that are a variation on a Forsyth pot. It's a clay sort of nipple that screws on the end of a bottle. You stick that down in the soil, and the soil takes what it needs through the porous clay. I haven't used them, but I do use Forsyth pots for rooting, and it's surprising how quickly the can empty the clay reservoir. Look for "watering stakes" on Amazon. There are also mini drip devices and slow watering bulbs for containers. I like the clay things, because it delivering water to the soil's demand.

And a substantial proportion of vermiculite mixed with the soil can retain water and release it as needed.

And they might indeed need to be repotted. Store plants are often root bound in the nursery container. If you think about how the plant only has so much root exposed to so much soil, a plant whose foliage has grown to match it's root volume may have relatively little soil to draw water from. I consider this very important. Here are some calculations:

A 4"x4"x4" container of the seedling size is 1 litre, 48 cubic inches.

A 6" pot is 3 litres.

An 8" pot is 6 litres. 383 Cubic inches.

If the plant was already in an 8" pot, going to a 12" pot takes the volume up to 21 litres!

Which would you like to live in, if you had to depend on only the soil in the pot for water and nutrients?

I assume for most things, that the nursery used the smallest workable pot to keep shipping and display expense down and that almost everything needs more root space and likely has exhausted the small volume of soil provided. And if you note that the volume grows far faster in proportion as the surface increases, and the difference is greater, the greater the size of pot, there's better heat management.

And a deep mulch can conserve moisture. Many mulches should not be in direct contact with the plant, but even nice round stones, available from a landscape supply, will help, and white ones will reflect at least some sun.

I suspect you're not far from success but have just tipped them over the line of what they can tolerate, with maybe a combination of heat, bound roots and drying, and even some small changes may make a great difference.
Zone 8a
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OAP
Jun 14, 2020 8:46 AM CST
IntheHotofTexas has given us all a lot of good information and advice. Thank you!

bonsai_ben, I think you are underestimating the amount of water your plants need, and I agree they should be transplanted into clean pots that give their roots a little more room to grow. As they mature, they will likely have to be repotted into successively larger containers at least 2-3 times. They would also benefit from some food. Transplant with a good soil and some well rotted compost, and maybe give them a bit of fertiliser now, too, to help them acclimate. Compost is black gold, but it works its magic very slowly. Do not apply fertiliser during daylight hours, though. The same is true for any sort of pesticide that you may need to use at some point.

It is very, very hot where I live, and even though most of my plants in my garden face east, I have to water them at least twice per day, more from July through September. Any plant that sits in direct sun 4-6 hours a day, especially one in a plastic pot that was potted with a lightweight soil designed to drain well and fast, is just baking in the sun on your veranda. At the nursery, they were watered every single day remmber.

The plants draw up the water you give them that does not immediately drain out from their pots, but a lot of it is lost to evaporation from the soil, too. They are losing moisture from draining and evaporation. You think you are giving them plenty of water, but I bet they are using up one watering well before end of day each day because they are in direct sunlight the entire time. You can stick your finger down into the soil to feel how much moisture is in it still, but I think you can just look at the plants and see that they are too dry. Plants grown outdoors have different needs than houseplants. Indoor plants may be fine with once a week watering, but outdoor plants are a different matter altogether.

I suggest you repot them in larger clay pots with a stone or something similar inside the pot to cover the hole so that your water and soil do not drain out. Clay pots are very porous, so you water thoroughly and just by looking at the pot you can see how much the soil inside has dried out. If the pot looks wet on the outside, the soil inside still has moisture. If the pot looks dried out, then the soil is either mostly dried out or completely dried out.

As IntheHotofTexas suggested, some sort of sun block screen may be helpful, too. Remember, your plants are not only getting several hours of direct, very hot sun, but they are getting the ambient heat from what I presume is a concrete floor of your veranda where they sit and/or hang above. They would also get a lot of ambient heat from the building and any iron railings, etc. That is a fantastic amount of heat for several hours a day. They are baking out there between the direct sun and the ambient heat in their surroundings. If you doubt how much heat is stored in the concrete, brick, or iron railings, walk outside in your bare feet onto the concrete after 4-5 hours of direct sun and see how hot is the ground.

I know you can turn this around, but you may have sacrificed some plants during your learning curve. I find I make mistakes because in my enthusiasm, I often plunge ahead with something instead of researching it first, asking advice from those experienced in an area, and then getting all of my ducks in a row so that I can proceed in a systematic, methodical way. Perhaps that is what you have done, too?

Good luck and let us know what you did and how it worked so we can all learn from this, too!

Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we never know which one is which until we've loved them, left them, or fought them.
~ Gregory David Roberts
Name: Sammy
Mid Missouri (Zone 6a)
Plant collector for 30+ years
eber1140
Jun 15, 2020 4:17 PM CST
In the future you might consider planting several plants together in larger pots together. Combination pots can look nice for longer. You might even combine plants like Echinacea with low growing annuals such as Sunpatiens or Vinca for the summer. Dahlias do well in combination pots. Mints can be used as fillers in combined pots. You would learn which combinations work for you. Watering one larger pot is easier than caring for many small pots.
Name: Paula Benyei
NYC suburbs (Zone 6b)
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Turbosaurus
Jun 16, 2020 1:50 PM CST
The nursery pots you buy plants only work for a short time (when plants are babies) under perfect conditions set up by growers in greenhouses.

Containers are not nursey pots. Here is a nursey pot on a container to give you an idea of the scale were talking about. And if it wasnt so late im the year, I would have put half as many plants in the container

Thumb of 2020-06-16/Turbosaurus/6a8e68

The plural of anecdote is not data.
[Last edited by Turbosaurus - Jun 16, 2020 1:53 PM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #2276169 (7)
Name: Paula Benyei
NYC suburbs (Zone 6b)
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Turbosaurus
Jun 16, 2020 2:00 PM CST
An 8-10" hanging pot can take ~3 annuals like petunia, vinca, impatients and portulaca. the gardenia and jasmine should have its own minimum 2 gallons. Echinacea and lilies are perenials that only bloom once a year and shouldnt be transplanted while in bloom. They really need a garden plot to do well. They should be treated as annuals in a pot.
The plural of anecdote is not data.
Name: aka Annie
WA-rural 8a to (Zone 7b)
Sandsock
Nov 19, 2020 10:58 AM CST
Just a thought...many Lowes, Homedepot, etc have a place where they put "recycled pots." You could get a couple of bigger ones to put plants together and see if they do better without much expense.
Name: Eric
Hawthorne, fl (Zone 9a)
Bee Lover Butterflies
Miamiu
Jan 10, 2021 3:47 PM CST
I have about 90 plants mostly in cheap nursery pots. Usually if they do not get watered daily they start looking bad. Pots dry out pretty fast in the sun.

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