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:


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 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 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!

56 responses to “Planting in Tight Spaces with Smart Pots”

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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!!!

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

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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 🙂

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

  19. 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

  20. 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!

  21. 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

  22. 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

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. 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?

  26. 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 . 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! 🙂