There are several reasons for growing plants in containers or pots, some obvious and some not so obvious. Analyzing the reasons for growing plants in pots as opposed to growing in soil allows us to study the process and realize all its benefits. Some of these benefits are also available to growers using polybags, but the majority are not. An overall view will show that growing ornamentals in pots is often a practical and economical choice despite the container costs.

The main benefits can be divided into:

CONTROL: One of the most important reasons, though not the most obvious, to containerize a plant is to get greater control on growing it. This control comes in many forms:

  1. Control over media: by definition, growing in the ground means using soil. While one may have excellent soil, it often is a limiting factor for growth. And even the best soil may not be suitable for growing some specialty crops.

  2. Irrigation and feeding: though not much used in India, micro irrigation to water and feed individual pots is undoubtedly the way to go and one of the major benefits of containerization. Very great savings in water and fertilizer use are realized. When used in conjunction with known, standard growing media, considerable overall control on plant growth can be achieved. By using the simple pour though method for collecting soil solution and testing it for EC and pH, intelligent decisions regarding feeding can be made.

  3. Spacing: the ability to adjust and change the spacing between plants is a major advantage. It also allows more efficient use of space etc by increasing spacing as plants grow and replacing dead or dying ones.

  4. Disease & pests: it is often possible to control the activities of pests and diseases when growing in containers, for several reasons. The relatively small soil volumes allow adequate drenching with fungicides or growth regulators, adequate spacing allows proper spraying etc.
  5. Root systems: one of the least utilized advantages is the ability to see and control root systems: most well designed containers will allow easy "knocking out" of the root ball to examine the roots- an impossible procedure with plants in the ground. Not only can one look for root pests and diseases but also visualize general root growth- poor root systems always mean poor top growth.

  6. Environment: containerized plants are most suitable for growing under shade or poly houses. They may be easily benched to reduce the incidence of disease, weeds and for better observation and care during the growth cycle.

  7. Transplanting: for obvious reasons, containerized plants are the easiest and best to transplant. Ideally, for specialized transplant production (plugs) should be designed to give automatic air root pruning.

MOBILITY: the most obvious instance is the ability to easily move a plant at the time of sale or transplanting, but the ability to move the plants at will has other implications:

  1. Space saving: when young plants can be spaced close, gradually increasing the distance as the plant grows.

  2. Uniform growth: typically, plants tend to be relatively non uniform. Once the leaves start touching, the large plants overshadow and quickly overtake smaller ones. By regularly segregating by size, more uniform plants are produced. A batch of seedlings can need to be sorted several times to get the best, most uniform product.

AESTHETICS: when growing ornamental plants the container is part of the appeal, or at least it should be. Apart from the basic need for clean containers of adequate strength, we often miss the opportunity inherent in the use of containers for plants:

  1. Marketing and branding opportunity: by using a special container shape or color it is possible to develop a brand image for the plants.

  2. Value Addition opportunity: by using new, unusual and superior containers and some imagination in arranging plants, it is possible to use relatively low cost and common plants in innovative ways to give a product of high perceived value in market. The price realized more than offsets the increased container cost.

There are, of course, disadvantages to the use of pots and containers, most prominently the cost factor. However, very often all the above factors will override and compensate for this cost increase- hence the world wide movement towards containerization of ornamental plant production.

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