grow bags in pots?

zinnekenMarch 2, 2014

On my balcony I have several beautiful earth pots. What could I do to try and prevent the roots circling the pots by the end of the season? Would using cloth/jute/burlap as inner lining in the pots help slowing or preventing the root circling?

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)


Make sure the soil mass is large enough that the roots won't get terribly congested by the end of the season. Of course that means you'll need to give some consideration to soil choice.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:34PM
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Do I understand you correctly that the choice of soil will have an influence on root congestion? If so, the logical question would be, which soil should I choose to avoid/reduce soil congestion?

This post was edited by zinneken on Mon, Mar 3, 14 at 2:18

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 2:16AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Your choice of soil will determine whether or not your plant is over-potted. It doesn't matter what you use for a soil, as long as you can water correctly w/o having to worry about the soil remaining soggy for so long it causes root rot or impairs root function due to lack of O2 in the root zone.

Read these for a better idea of what I'm talking about:

Not long ago, on another forum, I wrote the following because someone had asked if a particular soil was a 'good' choice. Rather than simply give him a 'yes or no' answer, I decided to go into enough detail that it would allow HIM to decide, instead of me, or others. It also offers something unique in that it illustrates there are two ways to look at soil choice. It meshes very nicely with the theme of this thread, so hopefully you will find it of interest.

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?size>color>

I think any discussion on this topic must largely center around the word "GOOD", and we can broaden the term 'good' so it also includes 'quality' or 'suitable', as in "Is soil X a quality or suitable soil?"

How do we determine if soil A or soil B is a good soil? and before we do that, we'd better decide if we are going to look at it from the plant's perspective or from the grower's perspective, because often there is a considerable amount of conflict to be found in the overlap - so much so that one can often be mutually exclusive of the other.

We can imagine that grower A might not be happy or satisfied unless knows he is squeezing every bit of potential from his plants, and grower Z might not be happy or content unless he can water his plants before leaving on a 2-week jaunt, and still have a weeks worth of not having to water when he returns. Everyone else is somewhere between A and Z; with B, D, F, H, J, L, N, P, R, T, V, X, and Y either classically ignorant (it just means they're not aware there is a difference) or they understand but don't care.

I said all that to illustrate the large measure of futility in trying to establish any sort of standard as to what makes a good soil from the individual grower's perspective; but let's change our focus from the pointless to the possible.

We're only interested in the comparative degrees of 'good' and 'better' here. It would be presumptive to label any soil "best". 'Best I've found' or 'best I've used' CAN sometimes be useful for comparative purposes, but that's a very subjective judgment. Let's tackle 'good', then move on to 'better', and finally see what we can do about qualifying these descriptors so they can apply to all growers.

I would like to think that everyone would prefer to use a soil that can be described as 'good' from the plant's perspective. How do we determine what a plant wants? Surprisingly, we can use %s established by truly scientific studies that are widely accepted in the greenhouse and nursery trades to determine if a soil is good or not good - from the plant's perspective, that is. Rather than use confusing numbers that mean nothing to the hobby grower, I can suggest that our standard for a good soil should be, at a minimum, that you can water that soil properly. That means, that at any time during the growth cycle, you can water your plantings to beyond the point of saturation (so excess water is draining from the pot) without the fear of root rot or compromised root function or metabolism due to (take your pick) too much water or too little air in the root zone.

I think it's very reasonable to withhold the comparative basic descriptor, 'GOOD', from soils that can't be watered properly without compromising root function, or worse, suffering one of the fungaluglies that cause root rot. I also think anyone wishing to make the case from the plant's perspective that a soil that can't be watered to beyond saturation w/o compromising root health can be called 'good', is fighting on the UP side logic hill.

So I contend that 'good' soils are soils we can water correctly; that is, we can flush the soil when we water without concern for compromising root health/function/metabolism. If you ask yourself, "Can I water correctly if I use this soil?" and the answer is 'NO' ... it's not a good soil ... for the reasons stated above.

Can you water correctly using most of the bagged soils readily available? 'NO', I don't think I need to point to a conclusion.

What about 'BETTER'? Can we determine what might make a better soil? Yes, we can. If we start with a soil that meets the minimum standard of 'good', and improve either the physical and/or chemical properties of that soil, or make it last longer, then we have 'better'. Even if we cannot agree on how low we wish to set the bar for what constitutes 'good', we should be able to agree that any soil that reduces excess water retention, increases aeration, ensures increased potential for optimal root health, and lasts longer than soils that only meet some one's individual and arbitrary standard of 'good', is a 'better' soil.

All the plants we grow, unless grown from seed, have the genetic potential to be beautiful specimens. It's easy to say, and easy to see the absolute truth in the idea that if you give a plant everything it wants it will flourish and grow; after all, plants are programmed to grow just that way. Our growing skills are defined by our ability to give plants what they want. The better we are at it, the better our plants will grow. But we all know it's not that easy. Lifetimes are spent in careful study, trying to determine just exactly what it is that plants want and need to make them grow best.

Since this is a soil discussion, let's see what the plant wants from its soil. The plant wants a soil in which we have endeavored to provide in available form, all the essential nutrients, in the ratio in at which the plant uses them, and at a concentration high enough to prevent deficiencies yet low enough to make it easy to take up water (and the nutrients dissolved in the water). First and foremost, though, the plant wants a container soil that is evenly damp, never wet or soggy. Giving a plant what it wants, to flourish and grow, doesn't include a soil that is half saturated for a week before aeration returns to the entire soil mass, even if you only water in small sips. Plants might do 'ok' in some soils, but to actually flourish, like they are genetically programmed to do, they would need to be unencumbered by wet, soggy soils.

We become better growers by improving our ability to reduce the effects of limiting factors, or by eliminating those limiting factors entirely; in other words, by clearing out those influences that stand in the way of the plant reaching its genetic potential. Even if we are able to make every other factor that influences plant growth/vitality absolutely perfect, it could not make up for a substandard soil. For a plant to grow to its genetic potential, every factor has to be perfect, including the soil. Of course, we'll never manage to get to that point, but the good news is that as we get closer and closer, our plants get better and better; and hopefully, we'll get more from our growing experience.

In my travels, I've discovered it almost always ends up being that one little factor that we willingly or unwittingly overlooked that limits us in our abilities, and our plants in their potential.
Food for thought:

A 2-bit plant in a $10 soil has a future full of potential, where a $10 plant in a 2-bit soil has a future filled only with limitations. ~ Al


Choosing an Appropriate Size Container

How large a container ‘can’ or ‘should’ be, depends on the relationship between the mass of the plant material you are working with and your choice of soil. We often concern ourselves with "over-potting" (using a container that is too large), but "over-potting" is a term that arises from a lack of a basic understanding about the relationship we will look at, which logically determines appropriate container size.
It's often parroted that you should only move up one container size when "potting-up". The reasoning is, that when potting up to a container more than one size larger, the soil will remain wet too long and cause root rot issues, but it is the size/mass of the plant material you are working with, and the physical properties of the soil you choose that determines both the upper & lower limits of appropriate container size - not a formulaic upward progression of container sizes. In many cases, after root pruning a plant, it may even be appropriate to step down a container size or two, but as you will see, that also depends on the physical properties of the soil you choose.
Plants grown in ‘slow’ (slow-draining/water-retentive) soils need to be grown in containers with smaller soil volumes so that the plant can use water quickly, allowing air to return to the soil before root issues beyond impaired root function/metabolism become a limiting factor. We know that the anaerobic (airless) conditions that accompany soggy soils quickly kill fine roots and impair root function/metabolism. We also know smaller soil volumes and the root constriction that accompany them cause plants to both extend branches and gain o/a mass much more slowly - a bane if rapid growth is the goal - a boon if growth restriction and a compact plant are what you have your sights set on.
Conversely, rampant growth can be had by growing in very large containers and in very fast soils where frequent watering and fertilizing is required - so it's not that plants rebel at being potted into very large containers per se, but rather, they rebel at being potted into very large containers with a soil that is too slow and water-retentive. This is a key point.
We know that there is an inverse relationship between soil particle size and the height of the perched water table (PWT) in containers. As particle size increases, the height of the PWT decreases, until at about a particle size of just under 1/8 inch, soils will no longer hold perched water. If there is no perched water, the soil is ALWAYS well aerated, even when the soil is at container capacity (fully saturated).
So, if you aim for a soil (like the gritty mix) composed primarily of particles larger than 1/16", there is no upper limit to container size, other than what you can practically manage. The lower size limit will be determined by the soil volume's ability to allow room for roots to ’run’ and to furnish water enough to sustain the plant between irrigations. Bearing heavily on this ability is the ratio of fine roots to coarse roots. It takes a minimum amount of fine rootage to support the canopy under high water demand. If the container is full of large roots, there may not be room for a sufficient volume of the fine roots that do all the water/nutrient delivery work and the coarse roots, too. You can grow a very large plant in a very small container if the roots have been well managed and the lion's share of the rootage is fine. You can also grow very small plants, even seedlings, in very large containers if the soil is fast (free-draining and well-aerated) enough that the soil holds no, or very little perched water.

I have just offered clear illustration that the oft repeated advice to ‘only pot up one size at a time’, only applies when using heavy, water-retentive soils. Those using well-aerated soils are not bound by the same restrictions.


    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 7:24AM
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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

Hey Zinneken,

Yes, you can do exactly like what you're thinking -- I've done it before, putting Root Pouches in fancier pots. You'll want to make sure there's some room between the sides and bottom of the fabric bag in order to allow the roots to be air pruned, but otherwise it'll work. If the bag is right next to the pot, the roots will become root bound. I use the 5-1-1 mix with Root Pouches and tyhe plants love it. Hope that helps!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 1:11AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Both Al and Jay-part-shade are right. You need a large volume of fast draining soil to get healthy roots. And you need air surrounding a fabric container for root pruning to occur. The way air pruning works in a fabric pot is that the root tips grow through the fabric and die when they encounter air. When the tips die outside the pot, the root inside the pot branches, producing several new root tips. These are the work horses that provide food and water to your plant. In a hard sided container that becomes filled with roots, the roots turn when they encounter the pot sides and then circle the container. When this happens you need to transplant to a larger pot or accept the limitations that come with having a pot bound plant.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 8:50PM
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