Ground vs Pot Growing

landpersonFebruary 12, 2011

I have never had much success growing things in pots. They have always seemed to require just one iota closer attention than I can manage, and that one iota always seems to be what makes the difference between the plant being able to reach out underground and find what I have denied it....or not.

But last year the gopher crisis reached such a level that I had to dig massive numbers of plants out of the ground and put them into pots while I regrouped. I rerouted drip irrigation to get all the pots, and ....everything made it.

So now I'm slowly putting stuff back into the ground. I'm on my third and fourth 100' rolls of gopher wire being made into baskets (labor that I pay someone else to do), and hoping to keep the gophers from destroying all my work.

BUT ....I know you thought I'd never get to my point. I sometimes read about roses that do better in pots, and I'm wondering what the differences are between pot and ground culture. I always assumed that it was just trickier to provide exactly what a plant would need when it was in a pot and that therefore having it in the ground where it could pick and chose would ultimately give it a better chance at finding the trace nutrients etc., that it craved, but....I have read comments from some people that some roses can only be made to thrive in pots and that makes me wonder.

What does make the difference between in-ground and pot culture?

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My personal experience is that roses do better long term in the ground. I took a soils class a couple of years ago. The professor told us that most people think that potting soil (also called "soil-less mix") is the ideal -- light, fluffy, and dark. Not at all true. It is actually designed for nursery conditions, offering portability, consistency, and drainage. It is not meant for long term use. While people do indeed manage to keep plants alive in it for a period of years, that is not its purpose. There is no soil microbial life in it to keep the plants at their peak performance.

Having said that, I do have seven roses in pots. I add compost to them every year in hopes of innoculating the "soil" with some beneficial microbes, and every second or third year, remove the rose altogether and replenish the potting soil. Now that is a job! Think twice before you volunteer to take that one on.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 11:43AM
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ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9

I'm a strong advocate of the-less-work-the-better gardening idea. With one exception, I've never potted on bands but simply plant them in the ground and they do very well. The one exception is White Meidiland which arrived as a practically microscopic plant and which I put in a one-gallon pot. After weeks it finally put out some little leaves. I stuck the pot into a rosemary plant, which most critters don't care for, and it got watered along with the rosemary. Once it's a bit larger it will go in the ground. I think roses in nice-looking pots can be very decorative but I just don't go there. The natural habitat for plants is in the ground and if they don't do well there they must be wrong for my climate, and I give them away or discard them.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 12:18PM
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I still have to pot up my bands. For one thing when they arrive I usually have no idea where they are going to go. I have bought them because I have to have them, but their place in the chaos has never been determined beforehand. So, they go into gallon or 2 gallon pots until I get a grip on where they will fit into whatever excuse I have for a plan.

And when roses have failed to thrive in some place, I dig them up and throw them into huge pots while I figure out if they are going to make it. Often a gopher has made short work of the roots, and they need intensive care for a while. Another rose goes into the same spot (in a gopher basket!!!!) which means that when the damaged one finally recovers, it needs a new spot. My garden/yard/life is a constantly changing arrangement.

Still, I was thinking more of a comment I found on HMF last week from someone who was saying that he only had luck with some particular roses if he raised them in containers and that in the ground they just faded away. That caught my curiosity.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Hey Susan -- I too was a pot skeptic, but I have a couple of roses that are proving me wrong. One is Bolero, a fragrant white Romantica. Another is Francis Dubreuil, a very fragrant dark red old rose that may or may not be identical to the hybrid tea Barcelona. (Doesn't matter at all to me.)
What matters is that both of them were looking mighty sketchy in the garden -- the word 'puny' comes to mind, and is not inaccurate -- so I yanked them out and plunked them in pots, more to try to figure out what to do with them than anything else. (To shovel prune or to resuscitate, that was the question.) Oddly enough, both my problem children became stars once they landed in pots -- BEEEG pots, to be sure. And without a lot of work on my part. I just fed and watered them at the same time I fed and watered the roses that were in the ground, and they just exploded in growth and blossoms. I wouldn't think of shoveling them now, they're fabulous.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 12:55PM
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So, K, do you have any theories as to why they are doing better in the pots? I had exactly the same experience with a couple of roses (Julia's Rose for example), but I'm still unsure as to why.

Have you ever tried re-introducing any of your salvaged roses to the ground to see if their new found strength and glory continues?

Oh, and how big is BEEG? 15 gallons? more?

I am thinking I may just keep some of my problem children in pots but out amongst the in-ground least for another season or two.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 1:16PM
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wanttogarden(USDA 9b, Sunset 15, N. Calif.)

****So, K, do you have any theories as to why they are doing better in the pots?

One answer I got for this question was that the soil in pots are fluffier and roots move in it much freely. That make sense if those roses are own root and/or do not have a established root system that can grow easily in compacted/clay soil.

I had the same experience too.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 5:10PM
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Ah, good thought. And that leads me to wonder if having that soft airy soil just spoils them so they will never be able to function back in the real life world of clay (even if amended to within an inch of its life). Or do/can they develop adequate roots that they will then do better when put into the ground as slightly older and more mature roses.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 5:56PM
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Mendocino_Rose(z8 N CA.)

The soil in pots is warmer than in the ground and has better drainage(usually) That's why my lemon trees are in pots. The soil is too cold here for them. There are a few roses that prefer warmer soil to grow well. I grow minis and a few larger roses in pots on my deck. Besides having to be careful about under or over watering, I make sure they get compost and feed them with fish emulsion. They have thrived for years.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:21AM
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organicgardendreams(z 10)

My experience is that in my North and South California gardens roses were not doing well in pots long term. They simply seemed to outgrow their pots and at a certain point I could not water and nourish them properly anymore. I guess you have to use rosefolly's method of re-potting them into new soil, which I think is really a lot of work.

I don't have any case of a rose that was thriving in a pot but not in the ground and I have grown many varieties in pots, but maybe I should try some smaller ones like miniatures. I may try Bolero, since it worked for onderw.

Bands are a different story though. I feel that they do much better in pots for me, because their root balls are so small and in a pot I simply can control the growing conditions much better. I can decide how much water they get, also drainage is better and potting soil is lighter than my soil in the ground, which makes it easier for the roots to grow.


Here is a link that might be useful: Organic Garden Dreams

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:55AM
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Cramoisi Superieur (Vintage's version) was a mingy, mildew disaster in the ground here. Gave it a couple of years, then shovel-pruned it. As frequently happens, a little piece of the debris rooted (it's always the rose you hope you never see again that roots easily...) and I potted it up. Looked pretty good in the pot. I kept potting it up. It is now (4 or 5 years along) a 2.5' x 2.5' beauty that may get a tiny bit of mildew in the worst conditions, hardly noticeable, and blooms like crazy. Was in a 14' pot, which it was just comfortably filling (not root-bound) when I moved it up to the 18" pot the other day. I have a hunch this can go on for quite awhile. I grow many things in pots; generally repot every other year or so.

I agree with Mendocino Rose that extra root warmth may be the key factor in this climate. A rose cultivar in the pot ghetto always leafs out sooner than its exact counterpart in the ground here.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 12:44PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

In the neighborhood was a nationally-recognized rose exhibitor who won national awards for years and years. He grew a lot of his roses in pots very successfully by shading and insulating the pots so that the root systems were cool and moist at all times--no overheating and no drying out. I visited his garden and his roses were spectacular. With weak cultivars some warmth probably helps, but the key thing I think is consistently mild soil temperatures and even moisture. Bone-dry to soaking to bone-dry to soaking--not good.

In my garden even soil temps and even moisture are very difficult. Try measuring the soil temperature in a pot on a hot summer day vs. the temperature in the ground. The soil in a pot gets roasting!

And pots are difficult to keep evenly moist when the relative humidity is 7% and the temperature is 90F. I can't do it. But of course that is my garden, my microclimate. I know it can be done, just more effort than I am willing to put into it when in-the-ground yields such good results.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 1:02PM
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Hoovb makes a good point. I only use clay pots for "permanent" installations and, with black plastic pots in particular, it is important to arrange things so that the pot is shaded during the hot parts of the year.

Also, time-release fertilizers like Osmocote have worked very well for me when growing in pots.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 1:45PM
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My theory about why a couple of my roses are happier in pots?
Others have already offered excellent reasons. At the top of my list are better soil and lack of root competition. The soil souffle in my 14" clay pots has got to be easier for roses than the California clay in the garden, even though that clay has been oft-amended with rosey-friendly mulch and other goodies. It may well be that long term I'll have to swap out old dirt for new to keep them happy.
Rootwise, poor little Francis was really struggling next door to Queen Elizabeth (who blooms her brains out but is a real thug underground). Small wonder he felt much better when he got some good dirt all to himself that he didn't have to share with Her Majesty.
As is the case for hoovb, root bake in my area is a serious potential problem. More or less by accident I placed the roses on a part of reclaimed driveway under a retractable awning. It was a serendipity when I found that as the temp surges into triple digits, I can give them an artificially created "cloudy day."

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 2:02PM
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aimeekitty(9-10, SW 18)

you can control drainage and situation in pots better, too... that's why some people plant finicky bulbs in pots.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 5:09PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Every time I see this subject line I start to giggle, and wonder why it didn't trigger some automatic blockage.

To MOST people, "Pot Growing" does not refer to roses.

--Giggling and Laughing --


    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 6:42PM
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I knew that wasn't gonna come out right, but my senior moment mind couldn't come up with "container culture" on short notice.


    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 7:28PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

I have had a fair amount of experience growing roses in containers because my first "rose garden" was in my SOCAL garden at my condo. So, I'll talk about that part first. The old fashioned recipe for creating potting soil for containers was 1/3 natural soil, 1/3 sand and 1/3 potting soil with lots of composty type stuff in it. Since I didn't have access to natural soil, which has all of those beneficial baterial you are looking for, I purchased a fairly heavy potting soil and compost and mixed them and added perlite for water retention. One of the most important things I learned was to "lift" the pot so it always had great drainage. The rose will take up what it needs, the rest drains out. I agree with never letting it dry out completely. I also never used clay pots. We cook things in the oven in clay...think of bean pots or caserole dishes.

I learned that no matter how big of a pot I used, most floribundas and HTs never looked as good in a container as they did when they were in the ground. It can be done, but there is a difference. Some roses will never look good in a pot. A perfect example is 'Kim Rupert'. The only reason I finally planted it in the ground was because it was named after Kim. I finally figured out the why of it after watching the plant grow. It's top growth is very spreading and I think the roots are also very spreading. That kind of rose may not ever adjust to growing in a container.

Being new to growing roses, I used Miracle Grow liquid plant food at half strength. The thing to remember is that the only way a container rose gets nutrients is when you add them to the container. Chemical fertilizers are salts, so there will be a salt build-up over time. That's the most important reason to change out the soil after about 3 years.

I never used anything less than a 7 gal container, even for mini roses. I wanted the plants to have room to spread their roots. This also reduces heat stress.

When the temps were in the high 90s or triple digits, I watered every day.

In that garden, I didn't count on the rain to water the roses. My neighbors used to laugh when I was outside watering when it was raining. But they didn't think about the fact that the rain bounces off of the leaves and never reaches the soil in the pots.

When I moved to NOCAL, I was gifted with over 100 bands of roses. I didn't own 100 pots ! I found a gardening company that had just completed a job of planting trees for the forest service and they gave me as many 15 gal pots as I needed. I bought a pallet of the cheapest potting soil I could get up here and potted up all of the plants in black nursery cans...using perlite in the mix.

The temps up here are high 90s and triple digits for weeks at a time. I watered every day during the high temps and again fed with MG. I didn't have time to worry about roses, I was rehabbing my new home. For winter, I clustered the pots and surrounded them with bags of leaves.

Since we get, on average 30" of rain up here and I had to put the hoses away for winter, I let the rain water the roses in the winter.

It took me six years to get the roses planted and none of them died. The last twelve were pretty stressed, but I had no idea how hard it would be to plant roses in glacier slurry. Yeah, I gave away a lot of my gift roses simply because I didn't have room for that many roses, but the ones I kept are looking pretty good now that they are in the ground.


P. S. I am still learning, so this is what I have learned, so far.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:09PM
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Totally fantastic, Lyn, to hear of your experiences, which confirm my observation that even transferring from large containers to ground is indeed possible with roses and even other types of plants. One does have to assess and take care with the "transition" zone when doing so, to make sure it is not too steep a gradient. From potting soil to clay is probably the trickiest situation. And, too true that most plants look better in the ground than in a pot. My 18" pot became available due to the little clematis "Arctic Queen", which had been there at least 5 years, finally developing too big a rootball to stay. Into the ground with her!

Actually, though, unglazed clay pots are beneficial due to the evaporative cooling effect that occurs. That is exactly why clay vessels are used for dishes that need to be cooked gently in the oven. The outer area is kept cooler due to enhanced heat transfer. In plastic, just enclosed boiling moisture -- no transfer of heat. Clay pots have been used for many millennia to keep liquids cool in warm climates!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:57PM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)


You're right about the cooling properties of clay, but I found they also wicked the water away from the soil which impaired their ability to provide that "cooling" factor you mention.

That said, if all I had was clay pots, I would use them and water more.

And I certainly agree with you about preparing the transition zone. That was the hardest part about preparing rose holes in glacier slurry.

btw.. I used a trenching shovel to losen the plant from the container and hardly disturbed the root ball when I removed them from the nursery cans.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 12:12AM
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Lyn, Yeah, that is the major drawback with clay (along with weight and cost...wait a minute, why do I use clay pots again?). In order to have evaporative cooling, one must supply enough water to evaporate! In a hot spell, that can get tedious. (Onederw, I envy you your retractable awning.)

The trenching shovel is a great suggestion. At large sizes, one cannot merely "tap the pot smartly and invert" to get the plant out. These things can, and do, turn into epics.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 10:22AM
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roseblush1(8a/Sunset 7)

If I can keep roses in 15 gal black pots in weeks of high temps for years, I know it's doable.

I guess the best rule of thumb using plastic is to make sure the pot is big enough so that the soil provides the heat insulation. If the container is lifted from the hardscape, I have found that drainage is not a problem and have had no root rot from over-watering.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 1:37PM
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