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Smart Pots Update – Looking Good So Far!

by Fern on May 27, 2010

in General

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Last January I had a contest to give away a set of soft-sided “Smart Pots,” the winner won several pots with the condition that they check in a few times and share how the plants in their Smart Pots are doing. In case you missed it, Smart Pots are a soft-sided “pot” that is supposed to provide better air circulation in the potting mix. Debra of the Smith Bites blog was the winner, and recently she sent me her initial thoughts. I have also been growing tomatoes, lavender, peppers, dahlias, and lilies in some Smart Pots, and have some initial impressions to share too.

Debra’s Experience With Smart Pots

Using a good organic planting mix with Perlite, both the tomato and peppers transplanted better in the new Smart Pots than in my regular pots – very little droop in either plant and both perked up in their new homes after about 30 minutes. It’s been about a month since planting and both plants are bigger and more robust than plants in my other containers. Since I live in the Midwest, our growing season hasn’t really begun (i.e., no blooms as of yet) so I will need to report later on the yield.

I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the Smart Pots maintain the moisture of the soil better than my other pots which means they don’t need to be water as often and they maintained their shape – wet or dry.

Overall impression is that I’m happy enough with the results so far, that I’ll be looking to add a few more pots in the future; we have a pond and I’d like to try planting a water lily in one and see how the Smart Pot holds up under water!

My Thoughts on Growing Plants in Smart Pots

I love Debra’s idea of using a Smart Pot to grow a lily in her pond. I have been meaning to try water gardening for some time, and I can see how a Smart Pot would be a good option in that setting.

I have all my Smart Pots potted up at my office. We did a poll here on LOTB to decide what I would grow in my Smart Pots, and you all selected tomatoes and lavender. I bought plastic pots the exact size of the Smart Pots and planted nearly identical plants in both the Smart Pot and the plastic pot. I used identical potting mixes and have fertilized the pots exactly the same.

I selected an indeterminate type of tomato that has blueberry-sized fruit called ‘Red Currant.’ The plant growing in the Smart Pot is a good 12 inches taller than the plant growing in the plastic pot, even though the plastic pot has a slightly better location (it gets 30 minutes-1 hour more sunlight). Both plants have flowers and green tomatoes, though the Smart Pot plant has more tomatoes that are almost ripe, more green fruit, and more flowers.

For the lavender comparison, I selected a beautiful variety of Spanish Lavender. One plant was slightly smaller than the other. I placed the smaller plant in the Smart Pot and the bigger plant in the plastic pot. The smaller Smart Pot lavender has grown at a faster rate than the plant in the plastic pot (I measure the diameter, height, number of flower buds, and number of opened flowers on a weekly basis). I’m not sure if this is because of the difference in the pots or the initial size.

Conclusion

Both Debra and I are having better results with Smart Pots than with plastic pots thus far. We’ll continue to keep on eye on the experiment and report back to you later in the season.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennah May 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm

How interesting! I have seen these, but honestly wondered that their advantages as opposed to just using a regular pot. Why do they work better (apparently)? I might need to give in and try some!

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boom May 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I love the smart pots that I am trying. I have rosemary in a 2 gallon; rosemary prostrate; and I have never had one grow so well. I believe the fact that the roots are not forced into a tight circular pattern at the bottom of the pot makes a lot of differenct. My rosemary has roots through the side of the smart p ot already. I just got some more to try out…so more later.

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Fern May 27, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Jennah–The pots are made out of a thick felt-like fabric that keeps the soil very well aerated.

Boom–Good to hear that you’ve had a good experience too.

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Kerry May 28, 2010 at 10:42 am

I’m a huge fan of Smart Pots. I’ve grown tomatoes, potatoes, herbs and have side planted them with oakleaf lettuce, which looked really lovely.

I’ve also put them in bright Dollar Store laundry baskets to make them cutter.

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Laura May 28, 2010 at 10:47 am

Good experiment. I like the idea of smart pots. I wonder if there is someplace local to buy them. Hmmm…

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Kerry May 28, 2010 at 10:49 am

Oops, I meant cuter, not cutter!

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Chani May 28, 2010 at 11:10 am

I wonder if you could use a couple layers of burlap and get similar benefits? The burlap would rot eventually, being a natural fiber, and then you could probably just chuck the whole thing in your compost pile, barring diseased plants. Might be worth further experimentation with my pepper plants!

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Fern May 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

Chani–I don’t think burlap would allow air to pass through as freely. And the fact that it would disintegrate eventually would be a negative for me.

Linnea May 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Those red currant tomatoes look adorable. Are they hard to get hold of? I have never seen them before…

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Fern May 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Linnea–The link I provided for Red Currant Tomatoes is to the seed company where I purchased them.

Fern May 28, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Laura–You can buy them directly from the manufacturer: http://www.smartpots.com/buy-products#axzz0pH0rQNv8

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Wendy May 28, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I am interested in this as I’m doing a container garden this year. I have been using a cut to fit furnace air filter on the bottom as a substitute for the “Better Than Rocks” substrate I saw online. The BTR allows for more air and the roots some medium to root in. I knew I had seen something similar and hubby turned me on to this recycled plastic mesh furnace filter that I got for $7 and cut to size. I’m not sure how it will work out…but I think it would be a similar effect.

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Anja May 30, 2010 at 10:38 am

That sounds very interesting! I am going to try this! Hope I will get the same good results as you did.

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Fern May 30, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Wendy–Smart Pots are entirely made out of a felt-like fabric, so air circulates directly through the sides of the pot.

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Wendy May 31, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Gotcha Fern! Smart pots seem to be similar to the concept behind soil blocks for seedlings. I was just relaying some of my latest endeavors to provide air to my container plants. I think I’m going to order some …what do you think would be a good size for doing squash, zucchini or cucumbers?

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Fern May 31, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Wendy–I’m not sure that what you described provides much additional aeration. Better than Rocks is not meant to provide aeration, the product is meant to provide better drainage. Likewise, a filter in the bottom of a pot might improve drainage, but doesn’t really have a way to improve air flow in the pot above.

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chrissy June 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Could I ask what size you are using for tomatoes? I am going to get a coupld of large patio plants, I was going to go with a 10 gallon, but wondering if 20 would be better. Going to do a 20 for potatoes with my 5 year old, he is excited. This is our second year at container gardening, the first did not go well.

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Fern June 3, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Chrissy–I have tomatoes in a #10 Smart Pot, I believe.

Wendy June 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Yes, perhaps aeration was the wrong term. I do know that the roots will grow through the BTR and I was thinking of aeration as in creating air space, which I believe the BTR and even rocks at the bottom of a container could do. I understand the concept that it is primarily drainage you are benefitting from though.

The BTR site does claim that aeration is improved….surely not to the extent of the Smart Pot, I’ll admit. But I do think there is some aeration provided because the roots are not being kept in soggy soil (good drainage) and air can get to them.

http://apps.betterthanrocks.com/press-release.html

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John Graves August 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

Fern

I was excited reading the Smart Pot website until I got to the recipes for making a water retentive mix. Ask your local grow store for recommendations.

For tomatoes I currently use 10 gallon black plastic pots with Miracle Grow – Moisture Control potting mix

Plants and fruit are wonderful, however I have to water everyday, the mixture is not very water retentive.

I was looking for Smart Pot to provide several water retentive potting mix recipes for this new planting concept.

Disappointed

John

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Ms Rose November 3, 2010 at 8:32 pm

How do you clean them between plantings?

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Fern November 3, 2010 at 10:01 pm

That’s a good question Rose. This is my first season using them, so I don’t have any personal experience with cleaning them, but I found this info on Smart Pots website: “After use dump out the soil and let the bag dry. After a few days of being dry, the dust and small roots will easily brush off. For most people, this is good enough. At this point the Smart Pot folds easily for storage. However, a lot of our customerswill wash the bags in a bleach to sterilize (I have heard lately that many people prefer OxyClean). They use a washing machine or dip the bag in a tub. Do not put the Bags in a dryer.”

Kerry November 4, 2010 at 7:23 am

I just shake off my Smart Pots and fold them up. You can hose them off and let them dry too. I’ve never ever sterilized a pot in my life and have had no problems with diseases or fungus wintering over. My pots get very cold in the winter – but, though many people do it, I think sterilizing is overkill (excuse the pun).

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Lavive April 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I really appreciate the fact that you’ve created your own blog and have in fact gived to the world your thoughts. I love your work and feel I can relate to what you’ve done. A lot of people can’t even imagine having such talent. I hope that you know how lucky you are. :) Good luck to you in ALL your undertakings. :)

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Paz April 15, 2011 at 6:32 am

I can imagine it helping with poorer soils perhaps, but what about the quality soils that have a good mix of perlite and other properties in them. They are designed to be well aired etc. Is there a need to improve on that?

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Fern April 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Paz–I used premium potting soil in both containers and the Smart Pots KILLED the plastic pots by the end of the season. My Smart Pots tomato was 18 inches taller and produced several more pints of cherry tomatoes than the plastic pot (which still did good, just not as good as the Smart Pots).

SaraC April 27, 2011 at 8:46 am

I’ve washed them in the washing machine, with bleach with no problems. I sterilize after each use. Especially for indoor grow rooms.

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texgirl May 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm

This is my third year of growing a Smartpot garden, in containers that have never been emptied. I have five 100 gallon containers. I just pull out the dead stuff at the end of the season, although I have had parsley and basil continue to grow through most of the winter, (El Paso, TX).
I prepare for each season by digging up the dirt, adding a little fertilizer and potting soil to fill it up. I keep it full to one inch below the lip.
I already have tomatoes of all sizes growing on my 12 tomato plants. My peppers have some blossoms and my basil is awesome!
Last year I had to buy green wire cages, (they fit snugly up next to the pots) to hold up all my tomatoes plants, they were huge!
I love these Smartpots! Y’all have a great summer!

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Jennifer May 31, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I have just started using smartpots this year for potatoes. My potato plants have taken off, and I suspect I will have plenty of potatoes by the end of the season. They are very easy, and compact. and these bags are less noticable than the green plastic potato bags.

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Fern June 1, 2011 at 11:32 am

Jennifer–I also saw that Smart Pots now sells tan pots, if that’s more to your taste.

Karen Mickleson June 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Any idea if these pots will work in the ground? Surrounded by good, loose soil? I’m in the process of redesigning my garden away from roses. It occurs to me using these pots would be a great way to experiment with various plantings; then if I change my mind or discover a plant isn’t doing well in ‘x’ location, I could move it with less hassle and damage to the plant’s roots. Maybe not such a good idea because the point is to provide aeration?

Thoughts?

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Fern June 13, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Karen–I think the roots might grow through the sides of the pot and out into the garden soil. I would contact Smart Pots to see if they have any experience with using them in the ground.

Jan October 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I am seriously considering purchasing 2 large smart pots to re-pot my Zettie plant. I currently have these plants in large fish bowls. However these bowls seem to be developing small cracks all over the bowls. I am afraid that these ceramic pots are going to be ruined so to save them, I am thinking that I could re-pot these plants in a smart pot then drop them in the decorative pots.
Can anyone advise? I do want to keep these decorative pots for my patio, however I am unsure of the size smart pot I should purchase. My current pot size is 53 inches at the widest and 34 inches at the bottom it is 13 inches high. Can the smart pot be cut easily. Since I will need the soil to fill up a wider top area, would the 20 gallon be too large?

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