Proper Popper

How do you tell when a potted plant needs repotting? There are several clues. Perhaps your soil moisture tester is no longer able to penetrate the soil. Maybe your plant has to be watered every day. You may find that the water you add to the pot takes forever to soak in.

The sure way to find out is to pop the plant out of its pot. When the pot is small this chore is easy—simply turn it upside down and rap the edge of the pot on a hard surface like your potting bench. Don’t forget to have your hand beneath the plant to catch it when it falls out! Now check the roots. If they are crowding around the edges, it’s time to repot. Now if you have a larger pot, simply get a strangle hold on the basal neck of the plant and tap the top of the pot. We find a rubber mallet works well with this, but a short piece of wood like a 2 x 4 would work.

If you have a plant in a pot that has a constricted top like in the photo below, you have a problem. When you plant in such a pot, repotting will be a real chore. Your two main options are to cut down through the roots all around the periphery with a narrow blade, or you could simply break the pot. A third option is simply to let the plant die a slow, agonizing death. Of course, you could shorten the demise with a quick severing with a pruner. Then you are merely left with the struggle to remove the impacted remains.

 Now once you perfect plant popping technique, you may consider using it while checking out the condition of a plant at a nursery before purchase. It would not be wise to invest a great deal in a plant that has been kept in the same pot too long and is now root bound.

 LaVille is a professional propagating plant popper and uses this technique constantly to tell when a plant needs repotting. With a little practice you could be a proper popper too.

Stan, The Popper Man

Big Pot Problem


Many of you have really large flowerpots.  If your pots are narrower at the opening, you have a problem when it comes to removing the plant.  If you want to save the plant, extracting it from its vessel can be difficult.  One solution it to break the pot—not the ideal option.  Now if you don’t care for the plant, the chore of removing it and the soil can still be difficult.  I have written you before about using a soil auger, and that will work.

Another option you might consider is planting your valued plant in an inexpensive plastic pot—one that is tapered for easy plant removal.  The plastic pot can be raised to the desired height with wood blocks, bricks, or rocks placed beneath it.  This also creates room for water run off if your large pot has no drainage holes. You can see in the photo I have drilled two holes in the rim of the plastic pot and inserted wire to make handles that will allow me to lift the pot out.

There are so many beautiful large planters out there at nurseries.  I can see how you would be tempted to buy one that narrows at the top.  Please consider using a second pot inside—call it pot insurance.

Stan, The Pot Man



Got Sheets?


With the advent of a freeze forecasted for the 22nd, I thought it timely to remind you to protect your tender plants. Although there are special sheet-like products available, old bed sheets will work fine. Got no old sheets? Then plan on going to estate sales.  They are a sure find. In the photos below I have placed old X-mas tree lights (estate sales again) beneath the sheets. These maintain a temperature above 50 degrees through the night to protect the abutilon seedlings that are growing for future sales.  If you plan on using plastic sheeting, don’t let the plastic touch the plants.

I just went outside to take a photo of the plants that the sheets were protecting. The abutilons have really grown well through the winter for the last 3½ months since cutting. We lift off the yellow tables each morning. A timer controls the lights, and that rug is a deterrent from tripping over the cords. The south exposure creates an extra 10 degrees of air temperature, and the pots most exposed to the sun are wrapped with white bubble wrap.

Stan, The Propagation Systems Manager Man

Primed Pots

          Growing plants in those ubiquitous black gallon pots can pose a problem.  Some plants prefer full sun exposure.  However, intense sun rays are absorbed by the black plastic surface and converted into heat.  When the planting soil within get hot, root damage results.  One solution to this dilemma is to line the insides with bubble wrap.  A much easier solution is to shield the outside.  I have found the perfect heat barrier.  Amazon sends a lot of its items in white bubble wrap pouches.  The most common size they use fits around a gallon pot perfectly.  If you cut the bottom off and cut the height in half to about 6 ½ inches, you will create tubes that will easily enclose two pots, keeping them cool, and yet allowing the full exposure of the sun to your happy plants.  This technique creates a reusable shield that will postpone recycling and most certainly prevent deposit in the local landfill.  If you are receiving Amazon Prime delivery pouches and have no use for them, we could certainly use them.  LaVille, for instance, transferred 30 abutilons into gallon pots today.  However, LaVille says I can’t order more stuff from Amazon just to get more bags.

Stan, The Reusing Man

P.S. I measured the temperature of the soil 1 inch from the edge of a shielded and an unshielded pot today at 3 PM.  Shielded – 74 degrees  Unshielded – 94 degrees.  These are the results at the end of January.  Imagine the results in August!

P.P.S. If the sight of all the advertising bothers you, turn the tubes inside out, but I’m not sure the shields will be as effective. I’ll test that out tomorrow and send you another email if there is significant difference.

Bubble-wrapped pots
Bubble-wrapped pots

Wheelbarrow Work Station

Here is an addition to your potting shed that is not new, but one that is new to us.  LaVille was complaining about a sore back after working for long periods of time repotting plants.  She was having to bend down into the blue half barrel that you can see in the upper part of the photo to scoop up potting mix.  I turned our wheelbarrow, which is seldom used, into a potting station by cutting an old piece of plywood into a work surface and adding cleats to keep it in place atop the wheel barrow handles.  Now LaVille can sit on a medium height stool and do her potting without bending over. 

Wheelbarrow Work Station
Wood tops wheelbarrow handles to form surface for potting plants.

The potting soil is a mixture of RediGro potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, and worm castings.  Note the trowel that I have painted yellow (I hope you know why.) and the bag of Sure Start (which I have yet to discuss). The white coffee filters are to block the holes in the bottoms of the pots.  The plants coming out of the quart white pots are variegated abutilons—my favorites.

I was surprised to find that we only have about 20 empty gallon pots remining.  I never thought we would come close to using up the supply that I gleaned from the returned stack at Redwood Barn Nursery.  I counted up the number of potted gallon pots around the yard and came up with 145.

If you would like your own portable propagation potting station, email me the greatest width of your wheelbarrow and I will cut you a work surface that will make this garden chore even more enjoyable.

Stan, The Tool Man

It’s A Wanderful Wand!

You know, it’s not easy coming up with a new tool to write about, but I am really excited about this one.  As soon as I saw LaVille use it, I just knew there must be at least two other gardeners out there who would appreciate this one.  If you are like my wife, she uses a watering wand almost daily.  You see, she has probably around 100 potted plants that are under cover outside that don’t get the benefit of rain showers.  So even in the winter, a watering wand is used regularly.  The last wand was good—until it wasn’t.  A crack appeared in the side of the aluminum shaft that caused LaVille to get sprayed along with the plants.  I found that applying J-B Weld epoxy to the area, and wrapping with electrician’s tape sealed the leak.  LaVille was still unhappy because . . . well, the wand was too long, the control valve was sticking, and the spray was irregular. 

So I went to Amazon and ordered what you see below.  This, in her opinion, is the perfect watering wand. Adjustable sprays, adjustable head direction, full and fine spray, and a short handle which can still reach higher up hanging plants and water a potted plant held in the other hand.  (The full spray is emitted from around 200 minute holes!)

If you cannot read the description from the photo, I am talking about “H2O heavy duty 21 inch Watering Wand” from Amazon.

Happy watering,

Stan, The Tool Man

Hot Pots 2

Cindy Eastman has her own method of dealing with hot pots. She lines the inside of her gallon pots with bubble wrap. If you are like me (sorry), you have a number of bubble wrap delivery pouches laying around waiting to be stuffed into the recycle bin of your local store.  Consider re-using the plastic by cutting the bags into strips that can be wound around the inside of your black plastic pots. If you would like to show your gardening friends how clever you are, cut the strips a little wider so that they show above the soil level.  I’m sure their curiosity will lead to fascinating conversation.

Stan, The Re-user Man

Bubble wrap lining a garden pot
Bubble wrap lining a garden pot

P.S. The pot pictured looks quite tapered, but it is just the angle of the camera. I appreciate those of you who have been responding to my blogs. It often gives me ideas for future articles.

Hot Pots

I suspect that many of you are growing plants in black plastic pots. The reason, or course, is that they are free. Whether they are small 4 inch square pots or 3 gallon round ones, there is always a free source for these containers.  My main source is the Redwood Barn nursery in Davis. Customers constantly return used pots to the nursery for re-use. My concern is that you remember that these black pots are easily heated by the sun, and root damage can result. Even though the sun’s rays are less intense in the Winter, the rays are coming in at a lower angle and strike the sides of your pots more directly. The air is cooler now, but the sun can still release a great deal of heat into the soil of your potted plants.

If you are growing plants that prefer full sun, you can still use various techniques to shade the pots.  I’ve shown one of these below where I have clamped shade cloth in front of the black pots. Hopefully you have a more esthetic technique in practice. Notice that the white pots on the end have no sun shield because they naturally reflect the sunlight and don’t convert it into heat. So, if you wish to avoid the whole problem, use white pots. I noticed that Amazon has a great selection from 3 inch to 7 gallons. White pots show plants better anyway, don’t you think?

By the way, LaVille plants most of her “mother” plants for propagation in white pots—pots that will not go to sales by accident.

Stan, The Cool Man

White pots and shielded pots
White pots and shielded pots

Building Raised Planter Beds

With all the pandemic caused emphasis on home improvement, this would have been a good article to write a year ago.  Better late than never.  As usual, wanting to advise others comes as a result of mistakes I have made, some of which are described below.

Size:  Length can be whatever you want.  Width, however, should be no more than 4 feet.  I have 3 beds that are 5 feet by 8 feet and it is difficult to do any work near the center of the beds.  The one 4 footer is so much easier.  The walls of my beds are made with three 2 x 6’s, so they are about 18 inches high.  Now that I think of it, 24 inches would have been much better in terms of having to bend over less.  But then, I think proportions look better at 18”—you gotta look good even if it’s painful.  The higher you raise the box, the stronger the support needed to keep boards from bowing out if they are long.  People use raised beds to make tending them easier and to create an enclosure for the new improved soil that can be brought in that, hopefully, plants will love.  Most people find that a bed 10 or 12 inches high works well for them—not so much for growing tomatoes which are best planted 18 inches down.

Materials:  Most people use wood.  Redwood is probably the best.  When you are picking out your 2-by boards, try to find those that have the most heartwood.  The reddish heartwood is far more resistant to rot than the pale sapwood.  Cedar is another good choice.  Pressure treated wood is more controversial.  No arsenic has been used in this wood since 2003-4.  Currently 2 different copper compounds are used and although no traces of these chemicals have been found in either soil or vegetables, pressure treated wood is not recommended for planter boxes in which food is grown.  You can alleviate you fears by lining the box with heavy plastic—say 6 mil.  You can also seal the box with paint or another kind of sealer.  One caution—avoid breathing the dust when cutting pressurized wood.  Wear a mask.  I know you know how to do that.  More expensive, but far more durable is construction with masonry.  There are all kinds of attractive alternatives here.  The drawback is that you have to lean over farther to work with your plants and the material is not gentle on elbows and knees

Misc.  Plan ahead and bring irrigation lines up into the box.  Cover the bottom with hardware cloth—you know, the substantial ¼” wire mesh, to keep varmints out.  A layer of weed cloth will also discourage the invasion of roots from a nearby tree.  Trust me—tree roots will love the great soil and water you have provided.  If you are using wood, consider installing flat boards on the top edges for ease of sitting.  Don’t just use screws to hold lumber together.  Use lag screws, or better yet, use bolts with washers.  If using lag screws, predrill to prevent splitting.  You can attach a band of copper mesh around the outside to keep snails and slugs out—but not earwigs.  Finally, as you can see below, if you use treated posts, you have to add preservative, sealer, or a cap to cuts that have exposed untreated interior areas.

In-box irrigation
In-box irrigation

Rotting post
Rotting post

Copper mesh prevents slugs
Copper mesh

Post cap
                        Post cap

Why does most of my learning have to come at the expense of mistakes I have made?

Stan, The Blog Man

Potty Talk

I knew that title would get your interest.  Now that I have you, let me tell you about something I learned about replanting potted plants.  LaVille and I learned this while watching Gardener’s World on Prime Video.  It seems so simple, that I am almost embarrassed not to have known of it before.  When you are transplanting a potted plant either into a larger pot or into the ground, dig your hole, and then place the entire pot into the hole.  Adjust for height and add soil around the pot.  Firm it up.  Lift the pot and its plant out of the soil.  Pop the plant out of its pot and drop it into the perfectly formed hole.  If the plant is so overgrown that it interferes with packing soil around it, first remove the plant from the pot, set it aside, and use the empty pot to form the new hole.  For better growth results LaVille always adds Sure Start to the hole.

I hope you will remember this technique the next time you do your planting.  It is really efficient and effective.


Dippity Do Da

Every now and then I get a good idea.  I think the last time was June 14, 2005.  This new idea cannot be claimed as my own, but then at least the plan to pass it on to you is my own.

I was watching an episode of Gardeners’ World on Amazon Prime when they had a segment about a lady who had a garden with 1,259 pots—and I don’t mean dinky ones.  These were all different and some were quite large.  Sounds crazy, huh?  Apparently she inherited this pot fetish from her mother who had 700 pots.  Now, this is not the significant part.  What is—is that she watered all of these by hand using a watering can that she dipped into 21 different dipping containers that were spread throughout the garden.  These 21 reservoirs are kept filled by a drip system.  Now maybe you don’t mind dragging a hose around the garden, particularly if you have own of those expandable hoses that is light weight.  But consider this:  What if you had a large garbage can that was in a convenient place in the garden that you could fill once in a while and add a light dose of fertilizer.  Now besides not having a hose to mess which each time you water, you are regularly giving your plants extra nutrients.  Good idea?

We have been using this system for a month now.  I use a pump and long hose to fill two 55 gallon barrels—one on each side of the yard.  The water comes from our koi pond so it already has fertilizer added.  The plants absolutely love it.  LaVille uses a watering can that has a handle that runs fore and aft, so she can water with one hand with the other one free to test the soil moisture of each pot.  She only has one good arm left anyway.

She frequently loses track of the watering can, so I tried buying another.  I finally found the right style on Amazon Prime.  (Dramm  7 Liter Watering Can 12433, $38.22)  There are many models that are far less expensive, but they all have bales that are mounted crosswise.

Dramm 7 Liter Watering Can
Watering Can

So even if you don’t have a pot fetish, you may want to try out this new idea.  LaVille would never admit to a fetish, but with the added SPPC plants, she does have over 250 outside containers and 50 inside.

Stan, The Tool Man

Pot Bound

Pot Bound?

No, I’m not asking whether you are heading to the closest pot dispensary.  Nor am I referring the condition of a plant that has cemented itself into a pot with excessive root growth.  I am asking if you are bound to your garden because you have so many potted plants that you can’t go anywhere because they have to be watered so often. 

 I suspected we had pot bound disease, but it really came to light as we left the last SPPC meeting.  I was trying to get rid of some pots left over from the tools and treasures table, and I asked Pat McKnight if she wanted a pot.  She exclaimed that the only plants she had were in the ground.  What a smart lady!  On the other hand we have pots . . lots of pots.  I decided to count them and I came up with over 200.  So if anyone is pot bound, it is we.  This year we scheduled no trips between March and August.  In August we have a gardening friend who will come over a couple times to keep all the potted plants alive.  My goal for the future is to reduce the number of potted plants so that we will be vacation bound when the weather heats up.  What’s your situation?  Do you likewise feel the urge to be pot free?


Clay Pots

If you want to seal a clay pot so you can apply mosaic materials, or if you simply want to cut down on the water loss through the pot wall, there are many products designed for this purpose.  For instance, if you Google “How to seal flower pots,” you will see a product called “Clay Pot Sealer” that is available at Walmart.  The site also explains how to apply it.  If you have left over granite or grout sealer around, that will also work.  

Bananas and Mallets

SPPC 5 23 18

If you have a twist tiller and no longer are using it, I will buy it from you.  A member of the Iris Club wants one.  She also wants 2 round nose and one flat end shovels, a pick axe, hula hoe, rake, and wheel barrow.

If you have harvested too many bananas at one time, (You do have a banana tree in your garden, don’t you?) as soon as a banana starts to get those brown spots, put them in the frig.  They may turn really ugly, but the fruit will stay palatable for days.

A tool you may wish to consider is a rubber mallet.  Removing a plant from a pot is generally easy with plastic pots.  You are able to squeeze the sides to loosen the soil.  But with a clay or ceramic pot removal can be a chore.  This is a two man job, but if one person supports the plant and soil on its side or up-side down, the other person can rap on the top of the lip of the pot to knock it loose.  Using a block of wood with a regular hammer will also work and keep you from breaking the pot.

Stan, The Blog Man