This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
It is curious that flower lovers should so often lack the potting instinct. A neighbor brought me a pot of Dwarf Ageratum, complaining that it had stood all Winter without growth. I examined the dish in which it was planted and found it without any drainage; then I turned out the soil and found two large lumps each as large as my fist of rank raw cow manure half filling the pot or earthen dish. The water had settled into this vile stuff where the roots absolutely refused to travel. The poor plant had squatted on top of the dirt and waited for better times. I gave it a respectable pot, good drainage and proper soil, and it has already smiled up its thanks in the way of charming blue blossoms and rapidly growing leaves. The good lady who owned it had succeeded easily with rank eating geraniums, and supposed all plants would endure the same outrages.
Much more is dependent on proper soil than is generally supposed. This is more true of foliage then of flowers; and foliage is half at least of plant beauty. All plants are foliage plants by good rights, and should be grown as such. A friend wished me to look at his Begonias and prescribe for them. I found them in rich barnyard compost; of course the leaves were blistered and the plants dying. I found near his house, an old apple-tree hollowed in the side, and an abundance of decayed lumps and rotted wood. A few half-decayed lumps for drainage, and the plants set in the wood dirt mixed with a little sand and the}' soon showed vitality.
Another mistake in potting is the use of these immense crocks that hold a gallon or more. Four to six-inch pots will suffice for nearly all that should find a place in a window or small conservatory. A plant will do very little upward work until it has done below; it wishes to touch the pot with roots on all sides first of all, for this reason your plants will absolutely die in a too large crock. I have just dumped a rose, a very large Lamarque which I had shifted into a twelve-inch pot, but which grew sickly in spite of all attention. I found the roots nestled in the centre of the soil, while the outer roots had perished in the vain attempt to fill the space allotted them. It was a five-year-old smothered in his grandfather's overcoat. The poor son now enjoys a five-inch pot.
Another error is to avoid too frequent repot-tings. For instance the Hoya or Wax Plant should not be disturbed for years. I have one that grew over one hundred clusters in Spring that has not been shifted for nine years. It is simply set very high up in the conservatory, and kept well supplied with water. The drainage must be excellent. Begonias, Azaleas, Camellias, do not like to be often disturbed.
Let the plant grower be sure to have his soils well composted and rotted before using. For the large majority of plants, good garden soil is sufficient.