How To Tell When Containers Don't Fit The Plants? The Plants Tell You! | My Green Patch - Gardening In The Maltese Islands

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How To Tell When Containers Don't Fit The Plants? The Plants Tell You!

10 comments
This week my garden has taught me another lesson.  I learnt the meaning of fibrous and tuberous roots.  I learnt that fibrous roots are thin roots which are shallow and stay close to the soil surface.  Plants with fibrous roots tend to spread them wide and therefore require shallow but wider containers.  Tuberous roots on the other hand go long and narrow.  A tubular root is one long root which travels deep into the soil in search of nutrients to sustain the plant.  Plants with tubular roots therefore require a deep pot to accommodate the them.

In a normal garden the root system of plants may not really matter that much, because the plants' roots can travel every which way and there will still be enough soil, provided they are planted with sufficient space around them.  In a container garden however, the space is limited to the type of container chosen, and it is important to know a little bit about the root system of your plant before choosing the container.  I have already highlighted these issues in a previous post on how to choose the right containers, so I will not go through that again.  In this post I want to highlight the task of identifying the root system of plants and how sometimes the answers do not lie out there.

I few months ago I got an Aloe Vera from a friend.  It came to us in a tiny container, and has been growing steadily ever since. Around the beginning of May growth stopped, and I decided it was time to repot.  I know these plants can grow quite large, and it was not meant to stay in a three inch container!  Since the plant was still so young and seemed to be doing well I didn't really look up much information.  I watered it whenever the soil went dry and it seemed to like it's place in the sun.  I placed the plant in a bigger container and it started growing again in no time.


Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera After Repotting 

Two months later I noticed that the plant seemed to stop growing again.  It had not out grown it's container so I attributed this to the fact that I had moved the plant to a shadier spot in May to make room for other plants.  Slightly worried I looked up some information about the plant.  Among other things I learnt that the plant's root system was fibrous, meaning the roots were thin fiber like and spread out.  

When I repotted the plant, the roots were only tiny so I didn't think that the plant would have grown so much as to be root bound already.  This week however, I was proved wrong.  As I picked up the plant to water it I got a rather fuzzy surprise!


Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera Fuzzy Root

So what's going on here?  Is this plant not an Aloe Vera, perhaps I got it wrong.  I was certain that it was a root coming out of the pot and not some alien growth.  I did another search online and as it turns out there are mixed opinions on the plant's root system!  

I found some sites that say that the Aloe Vera has a tuberous root system, and to plant it in deep pots to accommodate the root system.  Other sites, or in this case the same site, on the other hand say that the plant has a fibrous root system.  To complicate matters further I came across another site which said that the Aloe Vera can develop a fungus called Arbuscular Mycorrhiza.  According to this site, the Aloe Vera has a fibrous root system, but the fungus goes deep into the soil, and  allows the plant to get more nutrients.  Huh?

I decided this case needs further investigation.  I removed the plant from the container, and although the plant did have some thin roots, the main root was the one that found its way out of the pot. Root or fungus, I decided to place the plant in a deeper container as that was the obvious course of action.  The length of the root is quite impressive, almost as long as the plant itself.  That could be a good rule of thumb to determine the size of the container, provided this root is going to keep growing as the plant grows.  The container is not much wider than the previous one, as the plant is still young I don't want to overwhelm it.

This goes to show that sometimes, you can get it wrong when it comes to container plants.  The best thing about nature however, is that it will always show you when there is something amiss.  You just need to read the signs, and with some common sense, and help (or added confusion) from other gardeners, take action.


10 comments:

  1. That is something good to know. I have several aloes, and they seem to thrive on neglect. I will give them a check to ensure they are doing well.

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    1. Hi,

      I have pretty much neglected the plant, letting it completely dry out for the first months of its life. It seemed to be doing well, but last month I placed it in potting mix as I did not have any sandy soil. It seems to like it even more. I added more potting mix now, I will keep an eye on it.

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  2. Learning by doing and observing is often the best route to success. Thank you for thiss little morality tale.

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    1. Hi Ricki,

      Thank you for stopping by.

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  3. I have lots of aloes. They grow better in large, deep pots. Here in FL, we can plant them in the ground, and they go crazy!

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    1. Hi Deborah,
      we have them in the ground here too, they are quite common. I hope my plant will get to grow quite a bit as I would like to use it for its sap eventually.

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  4. This is a great post title and the story even better. Funny how a plant can send one on a quest for answers.

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  5. this is interesting, you spend a lot of time making sure your plants are happy, I have noticed plant roots grow differently and try to accommodate this if I have to pot them up, tap rooted plants can't always do their thing sometimes the depth of soil is shallow, the soil where I live and in my garden does not go down super deep, I have some loveage plants which are said to send down a long deep tap root but when I had to dig one up to move it the root was stunted due to lack of depth of soil, the plant seems happy and is still growing so I expect they learn to accommodate conditions, also there are no drainage holes in the bedrock ;) I love aloe veras and algaves but they would only grow here as houseplants, Frances

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    1. HI Frances,

      thanks, I suppose since I have such a small garden it's easy to get personal with each plant :) I do give them a lot of attention. It is also a learning experience, since the plants are easy to dig out, and move around in containers.

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