Planting in Tight Spaces with Smart Pots

by Genevieve on June 9, 2011

Post image for Planting in Tight Spaces with Smart Pots

Recently I had a client who wanted some plants tucked behind her waterfall. The waterfall had been built right up against her fence, so there was no real planting area – you can’t just pile up soil against a fence, of course. Enter the Smart Pots.

Because the spaces were so cramped and oddly-shaped, there was no way to fit normal containers back there. But I remembered seeing some weird, flexible new pots at the nursery on my last trip, so I decided to pick up a few and see if I could make them work in this tough spot.

Smart Pots are made of a flexible polypropylene (read: non-degrading) fabric, which allowed me to tuck them in between the waterfall and the fence and scrunch them into whatever shape was needed. It still allowed plenty of root area for the plants, but I was able to fit the pot invisibly between the rocks.

Here are the Smart Pots before using:

smart pot packaging

smartpots are flexible

And the waterfall that abruptly ended at the fence, with a sad little ostrich fern trying to grow from the soil a few feet down:

before

First, I scrunched the Smart Pots into the right places, putting rocks under or to the sides of them to hide the pots. I figured, rightly, that the foliage would hide the pots once they were planted.

Tucked in Smart Pots

I chose holly ferns and autumn ferns, since holly ferns have a strong evergreen, architectural shape, and autumn ferns have all that fun orangey new growth in spring.

placed the ferns in the smartpots to see how they're positioned

after - the ferns are now able to fill the area and grow larger

These pics were taken right after planting, so they’re still rather small, but I think as the ferns fill in this will look so much more lively and fresh than just having bare fence.

Other benefits:

What I didn’t know when planting is that Smart Pots have a lot of benefits beyond their flexibility. Apparently, plants growing in Smart Pots need less maintenance than plants growing in hard-sided pots. Plants in hard-sided pots need regular transplanting and root-pruning so they don’t become pot-bound, with circling roots that choke the plant.

But because Smart Pots are well-aerated – remember, they’re a fabric – the plant roots reach the sides of the container and are “air-pruned”, which means they simply stop growing once they reach the sides of the pot. So you could conceivably leave plants in a Smart Pot longer than in a traditional pot, because plants will naturally stay at the right size. Plants really benefit from highly oxygenated soil, too, so I could see them being particularly healthy in a pot like this.

(Fern Richardson from Life on the Balcony actually did her own side-by-side test of a Smart Pot and a regular pot – see the results here.)

Creative uses:

You know what else is cool – apparently, Smart Pots are gopher-resistant!¬† I guess they don’t like to eat through the sturdy polypropylene felt. So I’d be curious to experiment with using Smart Pots as in-the-ground protection for bulbs or other plants that gophers love to nosh on.

The nice thing is that as your bulbs multiply, you can lift up the Smart Pots and easily transplant out some of the bulbs. Usually when I try to divide bulbs, there are a few “dammits” involved as my shovel cuts one of my prized bulbs in half.strawberries in smartpots

You can cut holes in the sides and use them as a strawberry pot, or use them inside of a ceramic pot to get the benefits of air-pruning and less transplanting, while having the look of a more permanent ceramic pot.

(Kerry Michaels from About.com grows her potatoes in them – see the video here. Fern also has a step-by-step guide to growing potatoes in Smart Pots.)

The giveaway!

After I wrote this post, I asked Smart Pots if they were interested in giving a few away to you guys, and they were kind enough to offer no fewer than FOUR SETS of mixed Smart Pots! Each winner will get a 3-, a 5-, and a 7-gallon Smart Pot, so you can try them out in a variety of ways.

If you want to win, just leave a comment, and I’ll pull four winners using random.org next Thursday. Good luck!

EDIT: Congratulations to Sharon, Alison, Justin, and Roberta who have each won a set of three Smart Pots! Thanks so much to Smart Pots for providing such a generous giveaway. And thank you to ContestGirl for helping me promote!

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

David Askvig June 9, 2011 at 10:50 am

I’d like to win a Smart Pot!

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SarahK June 9, 2011 at 11:32 am

Your giveaways are fun. I’ve never used a smart-pot before.

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Liza June 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

Looks interesting. I’d love one!

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Kimberly June 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I’ve been debating trying these out for months, because I love the look of my burgundy ceramic pots, but for a giveaway, i’d definitely try it out!

BTW, I couldn’t even tell you were using smartpots in that photo.

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Kat June 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I’ve been scoping these out for a while, and would love to try them out. Thanks for the giveaway!

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Justin June 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm

These are really cool. Thanks for sharing new products with your readers.

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Terry June 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I’d love to try growing potatoes in these.

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Solducky June 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm

These look so neat – I love the idea of growing potatoes in them!

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Alison June 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I would love to win some Smart Pots!

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dheckert (Scholar's Garden) June 10, 2011 at 12:23 am

I am trying to grow a small garden on the fire escape of our apartment in Brooklyn. It is an odd space, so I’m constantly trying to jam yet another pot into the tiny space. These sound like a great idea to me!

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Sarah June 10, 2011 at 4:07 am

Something else I’ve learned from your blog. I dislike transplanting so much I tend to just let my poor plants shrivel in their pots, bad, bad container gardener that I am! These seem to fall into the “oh that’s so clever” category of gardening implements… would love to try ‘em out.

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Steve Asbell June 10, 2011 at 5:09 am

I love your description of the autumn ferns as having “all that fun orangey new growth in spring”! These pots look like a pretty useful product too, especially since my prized epiphytic plants would love how breatheable the material is.

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Melissa June 10, 2011 at 5:20 am

What a great giveaway! I’d love to try this out.

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Lydia Nicosia June 10, 2011 at 5:33 am

I would love to try these in-ground. I am in Wisconsin and there are a lot of flowers I would love to plant but don’t just because I hate digging them up each fall (cannas and glads esp.) Also in regards to bulbs that need to be dug up…do you know if these could be used to store bulbs in over winter also?? I know I have seen these used for potatoes in some seed catalogs but never gave much though to them for other uses. I am trying some vegable container gardening right on my back deck this year and these would be really fun to try with that too.

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Barbara Novak June 10, 2011 at 6:26 am

Smart Pots would meet my need to keep the garden flexible, moving plants around as the seasons change. Thank you.

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Roberta June 10, 2011 at 6:34 am

Wow! I love what you did with that waterfall, how smart of you to think of ‘Smart Pots’ :)
They are very cool indeed and if I don’t win some….I will buy some! I also love the pic of the strawberries – lovely :0)
Gen, yet again….. You Rocked It!!!

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patricia June 10, 2011 at 6:52 am

I am working with 2 this year, both havetomatoes in them. They are doing beautifully. Look forward to expanding into more.

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D Lacy June 10, 2011 at 7:04 am

They remind me of those wall pockets for green walls. Great product when you need flexibility.

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Liberty June 10, 2011 at 8:10 am

These smartpots are the solution to my problem of having a small balcony. I can grow vegtables and put these pots in tight corners and bring in more flowers to enjoy the seasons too. I can move the plants and flowers around and make it look like I have one pot with several plnts and flowers (thrillers/spillers/fillers). I get so excited thinking about the possibilities.

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Katie June 10, 2011 at 8:18 am

I’m a new reader of your blog and am really enjoying it. I’d love a shot at some Smart Pots! What great ideas! They remind me of the “woolly pocket” (??) fabric planters that Jamie Durie uses on “The Backyard Room” show, which I’ve always admired but never seen anywhere in a retail setting.

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Kathy Ormiston June 10, 2011 at 8:19 am

Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!

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Terry June 10, 2011 at 11:01 am

I would like to win these and try them in ground with lily bulbs, as I have some that need dividing and am afraid to put them in the ground with all the gophers and voles! I love you blog.

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Rochelle June 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I’d really like to try these for my front porch pots. The Spring poppies I have there now are looking great, but then there is that gap in time when the summer annuals are planted and they look puny for a while. Wouldn’t be fun to have my Summer anuals already going someplace out back and just switch out the inside of the pot when the Spring flowers give up looking nice. Hmmmm… I need to try some smart pots!

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Anjali June 10, 2011 at 11:23 pm

What a great idea! Would love to try these out and experiment with different uses for them. I like the strawberry growing idea the best.

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Lani Blazer June 11, 2011 at 9:20 am

I’d love to try them out here in the San Francisco Bay Area!

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J June 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm

What a great idea! Can I try some in Hydesville?

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Sharon June 12, 2011 at 11:52 am

These would be perfect for my balcony garden!

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Katie June 13, 2011 at 4:58 am

I bought one on a whim this spring and love it! Would love to have another

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Wilma June 13, 2011 at 5:37 am

What a great idea! I’ve never seen these before, but would love to try them.

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Mel June 13, 2011 at 6:45 am

These pots look really exciting! Please enter me in the giveaway! Thanks very much. =)

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Megan June 13, 2011 at 6:47 am

Neat! I would love to try that out for strawberries.

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Alyssa June 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

I’m working on my balcony’s garden – these would be perfect!

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mika June 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

These are so cool! I am moving to an area with a shorter growing season so they would be perfect for moving plants as needed. Thanks for hosting this contest :)

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Lynsee June 13, 2011 at 9:39 am

Great article, thanks for sharing! Cool pots!

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Adrienne June 13, 2011 at 9:42 am

My Balcony would love these :)

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katherine wilson June 13, 2011 at 9:56 am

Oh fantastic. I’m experimenting with apartment gardening, & I have some ideas about how these might work in that context.

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NYCrochet June 13, 2011 at 11:24 am

These would be perfect to squeeze into the remaining spaces on my terrace!

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Karen Mickleson June 13, 2011 at 11:49 am

Hi there. I’d love some smart pots–I’d like to give them to my dearest friend up in Sebastapol who’s totally constricted by what she can plant because of gophers. Count me in! Thanks, Karen

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Matt June 13, 2011 at 11:50 am

Smart Pots!!!

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Jessica June 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm

They look great! I’ve been curious about these pots since I first saw them. Interesting how you were able to mush them into the tight spaces!

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Holly Ward June 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I love Smart Pots! They are a great idea for me patio! I would love to try them out!

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JessicaCRB June 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I have never heard of these before but they sound like way fun! Pick me, I’m excited to try this out!

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Liz Thompson June 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The smart pots look fantastic, and what you did with the waterfall is beautiful. I would love to try a smart pot, and to share some with my neighbor downstairs who is more talented than I am! She’ll find all sorts of nooks and crannies to tuck them in. Thanks, Liz

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Susan Trejo June 13, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I have 6 grandkids. I have been asked this summer to help out taking care of them. I’ve been trying to come up with great activities to keep them busy and which will serve as learning experiences as well. One of the things I want to do with them is start a small garden. I’m a newbie, found your website and fell in love with it! These Smart Pots would be wonderful to use to teach the kids about planting and growing their own veggies!!! ;) Looking forward to being one of the winners!!! Thanks, Susan

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Leslie Smith June 13, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Oh, I like the idea of growing strawberries in a smartpot. It’s so hot & dry here right now that my strawberries have just baked in my raised bed. With a smartpot I could move them to a shadier spot!

Leslie in Lubbock

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gale marik June 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

due to my husbands and my house being put in forclosure and i lost my beautiful flower and vegetable garden, i truely never appreciated what i had until it was gone. we now live in a condo with a very small balcony, and your site is a godsend, i love the ideas and tips and the photos are amazing. keep up the great work, i truely am a fan. p.s, pick me. gale

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Deanna Beeler June 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm

I would use them for my bowlingball garden – something like a rock garden, only rounder. Would keep the dirt from washing away from the plants’s roots.
Huh – I wonder how those woven plastic feed sacks would work?

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Susan L. Miller June 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm

These are wonderful…. love the gopher proof aspect! Wonder how roses would do? Thanks for such a great blog!

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Sharon June 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Oh yes! I would love to try these!

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Autumn June 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

Very cool! I’m always trying to find new things for my container garden!

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Karen June 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

Would like to try the smart pots. hope I win!!!!

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Andrea June 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

I want smart pots!!

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lili June 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm

These are ideal addition to my container garden, located on a 12 x 12 deck!

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Chris Saleeba June 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Smart Pots are fantastic! Fresh Digs recently teamed up with Smart Pots to make us a custom liner to use for our reclaimed locker baskets, which we use for growing herbs. You can see how we used the liner here: http://freshdigs.net/blog/

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Bryan May 19, 2013 at 6:29 am

I had a wonderful crop of potatoes from organic seeds. Used organic soil and boy could we taste the differece. They were so good! We were very successful with smart Pots last time!! They were great fabric pots but this time we are going to try some fabric pots from http://www.oxygenpotsystems.com . They have a line that looks nice as they are a little thicker then the smart pots but we shall see if thats a good or bad thing. MY friend is having great success with them. Happy Growing! :)

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