Why small plants in tubes are a great choice

Small tubes are a nice idea if you want to stock your garden with new plants, as they are much cheaper to buy than normal nursery plants in larger pots, and can often grow well and catch up to larger plants and have better root systems. They are also cheaper and easier to ship, and there is increasingly a good range of interesting plants available online, including right here on my shop!

While you are saving in price, though, you will need to provide a little more care in the first few months after you get your plants. But this care will pay off, as tubes will often give better results than larger plants. Planting a very small plant directly where it is to grow means you get much better root growth, as the plant is not being disturbed each time it gets potted up to larger size pots, and the plant will not suffer from getting pot bound. It is quite stressful to a plant to have a large knot of roots if it has been potted for too long, and this can often lead to a plant not thriving once it grows bigger. Using small tubes and planting them straight to where you want them will avoid this problem. Your little plant will get its roots out into the soil with no setbacks, provided you baby it along for a little while.

Care of your tubes

If you are buying tubes online, once they arrive remove your tubes from their packaging, and give them a drink.

If you need to, you can keep your plants in the tubes for a few weeks, but you will need to ensure that you are able to give them daily watering. If you cannot plant your tubes straight away, then you need to pay extra attention to watering them. You do not want to let them dry out and die! Don’t just give them a quick hose, you need to ensure that the water penetrates to the bottom of the tube. It can take a little bit longer to wet the soil right though. This is especially important in hot or windy weather. This is also important once you plant your tubes out. If you plan to store your tubes longer than a week or two, don’t keep them in a shaded spot or indoors (unless of course you have bought plants suitable for heavy shade!) It is quite stressful and possibly lethal for a plant to go straight from shade to full sun.

If you don’t have your garden bed ready for planting, you could also pot your tubes into larger pots. But the best thing is to plant out straight away, provided you have prepared the planting spot well. This means digging over your soil to a good depth, and adding more organic matter in the form of compost, leaf mould or well rotted manure if you have it available. Keep in mind that the root system in your new tubes is much smaller, and it is the roots which are the important thing when it comes to getting the plant well established. With such a small root area, your new plant needs regular attention until its roots have grown into the surrounding soil and can fend for themselves.

Removing your plant from the tube without damage

Take your time when removing your plant from the tube. It is helpful to have watered the plant before you try to remove it from the tube, as this can help it to slide out more easily, plus there is less danger of the soil crumbling away from the root ball.

Attempting to pull the plant out can break the roots or the stem, which can kill your new plant. The best way to take the plant from the tube is to turn it upside down while supporting the base of the plant in between two fingers. Give the bottom of the tube a few firm taps. If that is not enough to release the plant, then give the tube a squeeze around all sides which may help loosen the root ball from the sides of the tube. If the plant still does not slide out, then tap the top edge of the upside down tube on a solid surface until it slides out. You can also slide a flat knife blade down the length of the tube, and slightly angle the bottom part of the blade inwards to give some releasing pressure, if none of the previous things work.

Planting out your new tube

Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the root ball. Place the plant in the center of the hole, holding it upright, and back fill the area around the roots. Be sure to keep the top of the root ball at the same height as the surrounding soil (unless you are deep planting of course- see my article on this- http://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/deep-long-stem-planting-better-plant-establishment-in-the-garden/).

When back filling with soil, it can be helpful to create a shallow well around each plant to form a water catchment. This ensures that water applied will be absorbed near your plant’s root ball, and not run off elsewhere. If the ground is on an incline then be sure to place any excess soil on the lower side.

Pay attention to your watering habits. A quick wave over with the hose will merely wet the top of the soil, which will starve the roots of water, which can be one of the biggest causes of plant loss. It is worth digging a finger down into the soil to see how well your watering is doing if you are unsure.

Watering depends on so many conditions, such as temperature, periods of windy weather, your soil, whether you mulch. Hot windy weather will stress your plants, and it may be worth erecting a little bit of shelter for your new plant in such conditions. A palm frond, small section of shade cloth or broken off leafy branch stuck into the soil can give a little bit of shade. You can use a plastic bag with the end cut out and supported by 4 sticks around the plant to act as a wind buffer, or even easier, a cut down milk bottle….get creative here to give your new plant a bit of help in difficult times, or if you need to go away.

A regular application of one of the seaweed based products is helpful, as seaweed has some root promoting properties.

Quick points on getting the best from your new plants

  • Water your plants after you remove them from the packaging if you have bought mail order plants
  • To remove your plant from the tube, don’t pull the plant stem as this could break the plant. Tap and squeeze the tube to loosen the plant instead.
  • Water each day for the first 2 – 3 weeks, unless it is raining
  • For the next month or so, taper off to watering every 2 or 3 days
  • After your plant settles in, observe the soil or if the plant looks like it is wilty, and water as needed
  • Mulch is a great way to help retain moisture, adds organic matter and keeps the weeds at bay
  • Give your small plant some protection if needed in very hot or windy weather, with
  • As your plant settles in, you can give a light feed with a slow release fertiliser or half strength liquid fertiliser. Don’t over fertilise as you can burn the delicate new roots. It is important to water the plant before and after you feed your plant too.