Why do houseplants need the right size pot to grow healthy, but in nature the plant is in a “pot” that is essentially infinitely huge?


Why do houseplants need the right size pot to grow healthy, but in nature the plant is in a “pot” that is essentially infinitely huge?

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Plants in nature have their own sized “pot” by the resources available. Other plants and their roots, clay stone or other natural barriers, water available, sunlight etc. Plants that get seeded in the wrong spot just die, while others in favorable spots grow. So you only see the ones that are in the right spot, and also only for the time that spot can sustain them. Plants die all the time, but we don’t want that for our houseplants. We want them in a specific spot, usually long term and usually in a specific size. So we artificially adjust the conditions to meet the plants demands so it doesn’t die.

Think of it like this, you are a baby in the free world, you have all the space you need to grow. We are predetermined to grow a certain size, so you will grow no matter what.

However, if you were put into a barrel as a baby, eventually you would grow too big for the barrel, but you can’t get out and therefore would suffocate. This is kinda how it is with plants, their roots have plenty of room to grow and expand in the free world, but are very cramped in the wrong sized pot

It’s a minimum amount for the plant to reach maturity.

Generally when you buy a small plant it was planted from a cutting or a seed. That’s fine for a month or two, but it needs to be planted where its roots can grow. If not, it will take up all of its space and become “root bound” which means there isn’t space for the roots to grow, and the growth of the plant is stunted.

You’ll notice when you buy garden flowers or other plants from a nursery their roots take up the whole little plastic pot so they can conserve space and put more plants on a shelf.

Most nurseries toss quite a few plants because the sale of 1 plant covers several more, and they are already root bound or near it when they arrive at the nursery.

Plants would love an infinite rich soil area to grow, but their roots will usually only go a few feet at most, so it’s not needed. Some plants love and hate other plants, so see “symbiosis” for more info there.

Potted plants therefore should have enough room for the plant to grow roots without becoming bound. They have no other plant roots to contend with, so they can grow freely and thrive.

The roots take up nutrients and water from the soil, and a root bound plant has already claimed all of the soil areas, so it cannot stretch to find more nutrients and water. That’s why you must feed your potted plants much more than you would have to if they were planted outside.

In nature plants have to compete with each other. Growing roots out is balanced by other roots from stuff like grasses, poor soil, rocks etc. In a large pot there’s nothing holding the growth back besides the wall of the pot, and the roots end up growing excessively compared to the foliage stunting their growth above ground a bit. Now while inconvenient that won’t necessarily kill a plant, just slow it’s growth a bit. What kills it is that a large pot full of soil and few roots doesn’t drain as well. Moisture isn’t taken up by the roots quickly enough, reducing aeration, and bacteria breed in there and the roots rot.

Like a zoo animal in the wild they essentially have an entire continent and maybe more to wander but they can live healthily in an enclosure of a certain size or bigger