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How to Plant in Containers Sunken into the Ground

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Planting in containers sunken into the ground has advantages: Not only can burying pots in the ground be an attractive way to add plants to the garden but it also helps to keep plants from spreading and insulates plants so they need less water and stay warmer. Planting trees in pots in the ground may seem like it would offer similar advantages, but it can actually kill the tree.

Plants in Sunken Containers

Raised garden beds are popular for many reasons. They have the ability to be placed anywhere and are the only option for hard surfaces, such as parking lots or concrete patios. However, when you know how to plant in containers sunken into the ground, that opens up many other options for garden design. The pots in which you are planting should have drainage holes. Because the pots will become part of your garden design, choose pots of a certain color with wider rims so that the color is more visible if you choose.

Decide which plants will go in which containers. Before planting, first clear your planting area and remove weeds, grass or other unwanted plants from the area. Gather your pots and lay them out in your planting area to form the design that you like. Dig holes wide and deep enough to accommodate your pots. Home Depot suggests laying down weed control fabric over your planting area and cutting holes for the pots.

Home Depot recommends leaving a 1-inch border of weed control fabric inside the pots so that you can pull the fabric tight and tuck it under the lips of the pots for a neat look. Install the pots and plants and then apply mulch to your planting bed.

Sunken Garden Tips

You may wish to plant your pots in the ground in an area where the soil is not easy to dig. If this is the case, dig down farther than you need to fit the pots and refill the area with a high-quality potting soil mix. Save the soil you removed for putting back into the bed or for use in another area of your garden. One Green Planet suggests waiting for rain to come before digging, which can make digging easier. When designing your sunken garden, you can be efficient or playful, such as creating a design with your pots or planting strategically for shade or windbreaks for other plants.

If you want to plant something that spreads easily, such as mint, Gardeners’ World says planting it in a container in the ground is a good way to control its root growth. Garden Guides suggests cutting off the bottom of your plastic pots to encourage drainage if the drainage holes that came with your pot aren’t adequate.

Planting Container Trees

When you purchase a container tree, it is usually in a big plastic pot and also probably wrapped in a fiber bag or fiber pot of some sort. When you’re planting container trees, it is advisable to take them out of the pots. The fiber pots are supposed to break down, but they only break down quickly if they are in an environment with the right moisture and with microorganisms to break them down.

Planting trees in pots is not advisable for the same reason that planting some plants in pots is good – the pots don’t let the roots expand. The roots might be able to puncture the pot eventually, but if they don’t, they can circle around inside the pot, which stunts the tree enough that it eventually dies. Also, water can’t pass through the barrier of the pot, and this can lead to insufficient water.

How to Plant in Containers Sunken into the Ground. Sinking a planter into a garden bed provides a barrier between plants and the surrounding garden. This barrier prevents plants from spreading into nearby areas and also allows you to plant in the best type of soil for the particular plant regardless of garden soil …

Pot-in-pot technique for easy annuals

Annuals are often amazing in their variety and they bring fresh change to the garden.

The pot-in-pot technique is a great way to make replacing them and caring for them is as easy as pot in, pot out!

Pots come in many sizes and you can take advantage of this to make your spring gardening very easy indeed. Simply bury a slightly larger pot in the ground and fill it with a smaller flower pot that fits right in!

What is the pot-in-pot technique?

Usually, it’s recommended to plant your flowers directly in the ground. That’s what gives the plant the most freedom to grow and search for nutrients.

But in some cases, it’s best to consider the pot in pot concept for planting your plants in the ground without removing the pot you purchased them in.

Setting up a planting pot-in-pot

To set up a pot-in-pot planting bed, simply do the following:

  • Identify the usual size of pots that your local nursery sells potted plants in.

Usually, this will be either a 4-inch pot (10 cm) for small annuals or a 7-8 inch pot (18-20 cm) for larger ones. The former are sometimes called half-quart pots and the latter gallon pots.

  • Purchase one or more pots that are just one size larger. Check that all pots involved have drainage holes.

One size larger means the diameter of the pot is around 1 inch across larger than the first pot. When pot sizes are marked in volume, though, the rating almost doubles. Basically you just want a snug fit between the plant pot and the larger pot.

  • Bury the larger pot in the ground at the right place. This is called the socket pot.
  • Best is to set up a drainage layer in the hole, under the pot.

Ensure the rim stays visible, perhaps letting it jut out of the soil by half an inch (1.5 cm). The larger, buried pot should rest on a bed of highly draining material, like clay pebbles or gravel. This pot will stay in the ground year after year.

  • Place the plant you just purchased with the smaller pot inside the larger one. This can be called the plug pot.

That’s all! Water thoroughly at first, and you’ll have to keep watering on a regular basis throughout the summer.

You can also use mulch of all sorts to beautify the garden bed, even hiding out the pots if you find them ungainly.

When is it relevant to use the pot in pot technique?

Sometimes you just don’t have time to go into all that hole-digging and dirt shoveling year after year, but there are also other good reasons for using the pot in the ground technique:

  • switching annuals and plants to different areas in the garden.
  • replacing annuals is as easy as lifting the old pot out and putting the new one in.
  • invasive plants are much easier to control and won’t spread, like mint.
  • water reaches the plant directly since the rim forms a retaining bowl.
  • ornamental pots with elegant rims can decorate the bed as well.
  • bringing non-hardy annuals and plants indoors doesn’t require any dirty digging anymore.

More interestingly, this technique is useful when growing and training bonsai.

  • It’s particularly relevant for bonsai created from seeds or young nursery plants.
  • This is because bonsai trunks will only grow thick if planted in the ground to leaf and grow naturally for a time.
  • A great example is this Katsura bonsai tree

You can also use this technique to bring your indoor plants out in the summer for a bit of fresh sun over the season. They’ll resist high temperatures better if their root ball and pot are below ground level instead of above it, since temperatures are cooler underground.

Precautions when growing plants in pots in the ground

Plants that grow in pots that are embedded in the ground won’t be able to spread their roots out as easily as plants that are free-planted. They’ll tend to send a few roots out of the draining holes.

  • Plants won’t grow as large because they have access to less nutrients.
  • Plants with a pot in the ground need more watering.

If you’re using the pot in ground technique for indoor plants, remember that most of the nutrients they’ll find will be those in their own potting soil mix. You’ll have to keep repotting them on schedule, fertilize them or topdress them to ensure they have enough to keep on going.

  • Fortunately, the pot-in-pot technique makes caring for your plants easier: repotting is typically a raised garden activity.
  • Make your own fermented weed fertilizer and use it to both water and nourish your pot-in-pot plants!

If you’re willing to use it, you can reduce the need for frequent watering by spreading a few tablespoons of hydrogel powder in the space between both pots.

When to replace plants with the pot in a pot system

Usually, summer annuals will die off in fall or at the beginning of winter. You can pull them out when flowers have wilted and discard them in the compost, or let them be during the winter and only replace them directly come spring.

But when replacing pots in your garden is so easy, why not replace them with winter-blooming flowers such as heather? You’ll be able to switch them back to summer flowers in spring. And you can probably set those winter flowers in their own buried pot bed in a cooler, shady place that will protect them from the summer heat and sun.

Planting pots in pots on social media

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pot-in-pot technique for a growing bed (also on social media) by Keith Hall,
Nature & Garden contributor
Coleus in a pot-in-pot bed by Keith Hall,
Nature & Garden contributor

Wonder how to reconcile all that planting in Spring and uprooting in Fall? The pot-in-pot garden makes switching out winter and summer plants a cinch!