About Me
My Photo
Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
View my complete profile

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Terra Cotta Shuffle

This post, "The Terracotta Shuffle", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin

The large containers that edge the patio have been bugging me - first I just switched the containers around and generally tidied the plants. Sometimes that's enough, and the shadier end did look better but the sunny end needed more. The Mexican Fan Palm bought last spring looked happy but the poor 'Celeste' fig was on the decline. After some of the branches were killed by a late freeze a couple of years ago, the rest of the tree gave up - bearing no fruit and with the leaves becoming smaller each year. Eight years in a pot was too long - even when the pot is a large terra cotta souvenir.

We'd picked up this container from a garden pottery dealer along an Oklahoma highway on the way back to Austin from Illinois in late 1999. After a bout of pneumonia at Christmas, I was so weak the shoulder strap barely kept me upright in the car but I was strong enough to croak "Stop!" and to stagger around the pottery yard long enough to pick out one big clay pot; Philo had to stuff it with our luggage to fit it in the car. We continued on to Austin and as the sun grew stronger I started to feel stronger, too. Soon after we got back I planted the fig tree. It grew fast and I rooted a cutting in 2003. That cutting was planted in the Secret Garden after we moved here -it took hold and made figs last year. Now it was time to let the original fig go and plant something that we'd like to look at while sitting on the patio. The roots of the dying fig were entwined with creeping fig and 'LaBuffarosea' rainlilies in one solid mass. I clipped and pulled and clawed, tugging out bulbs but trying to leave the fig vine on the outside wall of the pot. Finally I could flip the root ball out with the roots of the creeping fig attached like an umbilical cord to the green part. I scraped and cleaned the inside of the pot.
John Dromgoole has advised using window screening fabric cut to fit inside the bottom of containers before planting to help keep the drainage holes clear and to help keep out insects like pillbugs. I now do this every time I repot anything so that was the next step.

I cut away most of the root mass, preserving a chunk of roots from one part of the creeping fig that had attached to the outside of the pot. But instead of setting the creeping fig loose again, I stuffed its roots into a smaller plastic pot to slow it down a little, using chunks of styrofoam packing blocks to raise the black pot level with the big pot's rim. The fig vine looks cool against the terracotta so I hope it lives, but am not counting on it.
So who is the new main inhabitant? I found a second 'Mutabilis' rose last week, at Hill Country Landscape Garden on Pond Springs Road and was pleased to find that the plant came from the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham.

I'd looked for rose soil at a few places with no luck, but found it at the Austin GardenVille - I'm trying to do things right from the beginning with this new 'Mutabilis' - soil and rose went into the terracotta pot. Are any of you growing roses in containers? Are you using special soil? Does it make a big difference?
I'd bought enough rose soil to repot the three mini-roses, too. The pale apricot mini-rose from my daughter and her husband had been potted last fall using the piece of screen at the bottom. It was doing well and needed a larger container, but the roots of the two 'Champagne' roses were avoiding the soil at the bottom of their pots - a sign they weren't draining fast enough. I cut two screens and then all three were planted in the rose soil.
Thanks to the squirrels I found wanna-be trees in every mini-rose pot ... either live oak or pecan. Mr McGregor's Daughter calls her garden "Squirrelhaven", but that name would work here, too.

If the rose likes its new home this end of the patio will have a 'Butterfly Rose' blooming this spring where we can see it from the breakfast room window.

The idea for this post came from Kate, who said she craved seeing any kind of garden work - I hope this bit of gardening puttering qualifies, but what's an Austin post without a flower photo? With warm, windy weather and no frosts in the forecast, the 'Pius X' Camellia japonica hasn't held one bud in reserve. It's thrown caution to the wind and believes in spring.

This post, "The Terracotta Shuffle", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin


  1. I have a whole roll of window screen fabric. I never thought of using it in containers. Thanks for the great idea.
    I can't imagine how anything lives in clay containers in that Austin heat. You must have to water them all the time.

  2. I am also thrilled to see that someone is enjoying the puttering of garden work. I like your big terra cotta pots. I wish I could have them outside all year. I would have many more if I could.

    I haven't done roses in pots. I didn't even know there was such a thing as rose soil. I wonder what the difference is say of it and regular potting soil?

    I sometimes put used dryer softener sheets in the bottom of my pots. I guess they do the same as screen. I sometimes use aluminum cans in the bottom of large pots if I don't need all the space to grow the flowers. They are light weight and aren't difficult to release from the soil when you change your soil or repot.

    Your camillia is so pretty. I wasn't aware of camillias for many years. I used to listen to Red Barber in Tallahassee, FL (where he spoke from) talk about sports every friday when i drove to work. He would almost wax poetic when the camillias would start blooming. I had to get a flower guide to see what he was so enraptured about.

    Sorry I am so gabby tonight. I just enjoyed your post and it brought up many memories and thoughts.

  3. Glad you found another Mutalibilis rose, Annie. Your terra cotta pots are awesome--obviously we can't use them outdoors yearround, but I use them for all my houseplants too; they're heavy, yes, but there's nothing really like them.

    I too am glad to see some garden puttering posts...we're a long way from doing anything out there except maybe cleaning up broken branches.

  4. Someone in Austin got cracking in the garden! It's hard to believe you are well underway when nothing much is happening around here. It's early February, for crying out loud!

    I've never potted roses before. That's a good thought...

    Good job, Annie.

  5. The container within the container is an excellent idea, as is the window screen at the bottom of the pot. I often fill the bottom of my bigger pots with the smaller plastic containers that bedding plants are grown in so I don't have to use as much potting soil.

    It was nice to read about some "real" gardening going on someplace and see that camellia in bloom. All my pots are still in the garage or under a tarp on the back patio.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  6. Now this post did my heart good! I also learned something new - putting the window screen fabric in the bottom of pots. That's a great idea.

    More than anything, reading about your work with the pots was a perfect antidote to -18f weather.

    I like the way you have the clay
    pots organised on the patio. They look great - I hope the rose does well.

    Your photograph of the nuts planted by squirrels makes me wonder if squirrels ever remember where they bury things.

    I think I've fallen in love with Camellias - I like the idea that they can survive in colder places like Ki's New Jersey garden and all the way south to your garden.

    So what other garden tasks are on your agenda? I hope you'll post about them as well!!

  7. Great tip about the window screen at the bottom of the pots. Somewhere I read of using coffee filters and tried that for a while, but window screen would work better.

    I like the creeping fig on the outside of the terracotta pot. There's a brick wall covered in creeping fig at Dumbarton Oaks in DC - a similar effect.

  8. Well I'm glad I'm not the only one who hadn't heard about the window screen idea!

    I had to laugh at the squirrels "helping" you plant trees. Maybe you should put them up on Ebay and buy them some corn... :)

  9. I'm going to use the window screen idea come May when we northerners can begin gardening in earnest.

    We used to have major squirrel problems, but every since our cat population went up, we haven't had as much of an issue - go figure!

    Love the Pius X, BTW....

  10. I haven't done much with pots but I'll remember the screen tip. I hope the creeping fig makes it!

  11. I absolutely love terra cotta pots. My garden is on my terrace, so I have to do container gardening, and most of my containers are terra cotta. I have a big one that plant petunias in, for the hummingbirds.

    Lovely photos as usual, Annie!

  12. You have my permission to call your garden "Squirrelhaven South." :^) But seriously, we need a window-screen type option for keeping the squirrels out of the top of the pots. Last summer I had a heck of a time keeping the soil in 1 of my containers because the squirrels kept flicking it out to plant peanuts. At least you could pot up & sell oak & pecan seedlings.
    I loved your story about being very sick, but not too sick to stop for gardening. All too familiar.

  13. Yes, too sick to sit up in the car seat but not too sick to shop for plant containers, too 'all gardening all the time'! Mutabalis is gorgeous, when we lived in Houston, they were well used in the older neighborhoods, blooming nearly all year 'round. Do you have a watering system, or water by hand for those pots?

    Frances at Faire Garden

  14. I enjoyed your "how-to" post and appreciated your tip about using window screening at the bottom of the pot. I have had trouble with ants colonizing in some of my pots, but I don't suppose window screening would help with that, as they're so small.

  15. Thanks for sharing the window screen tip! Great idea. so I keep reading your posts and others about Mutabilis and I am craving a rose. Do you think that's what I should plant? I have a fairly dry, sunny spot ( until about 2:00 - morning sun and some afternoon but not late, hot. Sadly I had to tear out a climber that I was in love with last year, but I can't replace it because there isn't enough sun there. This could grow up a trellis on the side of the house. I like the heirloom looking roses. I want a Camellia now, too!

  16. As the others have already said, the window screen tip is a great one. Thanks for sharing.

    I love container gardening. I've grown mini-roses in pots before, but I think I just used regular potting soil.

  17. It's nice to see something blooming this time of year. Zone 8 is a great place to be, especially in February! I like how you have the pots by the patio. It will give a very welcoming effect.

    The Spring Fling sounds like a lot of fun. I can't wait to see everyones posts on that!

  18. It truly is nice to see that someone in our vast country is doing some gardening. I love that sunny second last picture and would love to sit there and visit with you while sipping tea Annie. I hope your Butterfly Rose enjoys it's new home and does well.
    Thanks for the beautiful bright camellia. It's a sight for sore eyes on this wind chilled frigid night!

  19. Hi Annie,
    I have a climbing rose and a floribunda in large pots, and they're both fine.

    At the Botanical Garden, roses live in pots for years before being sold, and they bloom just like roses planted in the ground. The rose lady at the Bot Garden re-pots everything once a year.

    In my garden, if I'm content if a rose lives for a few years. For $20, I can buy a new rose once in awhile. The climbing rose gets a little rusty during the summer, but I don't care.

    I use the generic soilless planting mix they sell at my nursery for both my potted roses, and I top-dress with handfulls of compost throughout the year.

    And I just remembered I planted one of those little mini-roses they sell at Christmas in a container of mixed succulents growing in succulent mix, and that plant seems fine too.

    I have a lot of other things in pots (including the Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'), and I must say the only plants that seemed to resent it were drought-tolerant, deep-rooted natives. The growth seemed really sparse and thin. Just not how they look in the ground.

    What happens when pill bugs get into your pots? Aren't they in the ground with the other plants anyway?

    I usually drill several more holes in all my containers before planting them up.

  20. Hi Robin of Nesting Place - I'm happy to pass John Dromgoole's idea along. I have just a few big terra cotta pots. Most of my larger containers are synthetic imitations of terra cotta or else they're hypertufa - the thinner clay pots cracked to pieces from frost. In summer they need water every day - twice if it's over 100 °F.

    Lisa at Greenbow, putter is my middle name. Some of the pots just look like terra cotta. According to the label, rose soil is a little more acid, has lots of organic matter and has different sands in it for free drainage. I tried coffee filters but never used dryer sheets.

    Camellias didn't grow in Illinois and they aren't that happy here either, but anything zone 8 is fair game, sez I! Be as gabby as you want, please.

    I was glad to find the rose, too, Jodi - sometimes I'm not in the nurseries at the right time and miss my window of opportunity. I haven't had great luck with clay pots, but a couple of the really heavy ones are okay so far.

    Carol, I had styrofoam chunks so that's what I used, but will try to remember that smaller plastic container idea, as well as Lisa's aluminum can tip.

    I have plants in the garage as well as in the kitchen, and others that come in and out - we still have frosts ahead!

    Thank you, Kate- your weather may be daunting, but your indoor garden is inspiring!

    Most of the containers came from the deck at the other house - guess we got used to seeing them near the table.

    Do the squirrels acually remember where the nuts are or do they just keep digging until they get lucky? From the looks of my containers, I think they just keep digging!

    For real camellia photos, I go over to South Carolina/Pam at Tales from the Microbial Laboratory and just wallow in their beauty.

    Hello Entangled - this method seemed more likely to promote free-draining so I liked it, too.

    The reason I wanted to grow creeping fig in the first place was in memory of Henry Mitchell's unsuccessful attempts to make it cover the walls of his 'garden house'. I think he had Dumbarton Oaks in his mind, too!

    I'm getting nervous about the number of sprouting pecans, Rurality - they're coming up everywhere! Maybe I'll pot them up and pass them out to the Spring Flingers LOL.

    Sherry, neighborhood cats are here all the time with no fatalities - do our cats and squirrels have some kind of pact?

    This would be have been hard to do when window screens were all made of metal - once they were made of material one can cut with scissors the idea was inevitable!

    I hope the fig makes it does too, Apple - if not, I'll start over with a small plant and be patient!

    You get some colder weather in your climate, Josie, but maybe you don't have cycles of freeze and thaw that crack them? I'll bet they look lovely on the terrace, especially with hummingbirds.

    I named this place Circus~Cercis last year, MMGD- but if the tree rats get any worse may change the name. They've already dug holes in the newly repotted plants so I keep refilling and firming them up. I had some luck adding a layer of decomposed granite on the tops. Maybe their delicate little paws didn't like the way the gravel felt.

    Should I save a pecan seedling for you when you come to Spring Fling?

    You have to seize the moment, right Frances? Ooooh, a whole neighborhood of mutabilis must have been pretty.

    The only watering system around here is me!

    Confession time, Pam/Digging - last spring during our flood season, ants got into the gardenia and killed it... the inside of the pot was all ant nest, with barely any soil left for the plant roots.
    I think the ants could get in through the screen... but it might not be so easy for them to take the soil out?

    John shared it with us first, Diana ;-]
    I'm pretty new at growing roses in Austin - but do know Mutabilis can get huge. Some of the roses MSS at Zanthan grows will make some flowers in spite of shade, and they're heirlooms. Good luck!

    It's good to hear from you Brianna - oops... meant to put you in my links.

    Our other Austin house had deer, so all the good plants were in containers on the deck. We brought them here and many ended up on the patio. I like the ability to move the plants around to follow the sun/shade patterns.

    Oh CountryGirl - zone 8 is so different from my old zone 5. And it's odd when February is usually a better time to be outside than August!

    Spring Fling is going to be amazing - less than 2 months away now. You'll probably see some cool photos of Austin.

    What's funny Kerri, is that we in Austin keep looking with envy at the bloggers farther south!
    If Austin ever is a destination for you, that tea-sipping idea could be a reality. Will the mutabilis have covered half the table by then?

    Chuck - you are the king of container growing! I had my Ladybanks rose in a container for a long time but lost a couple of other roses at the other house... they liked the sun but the roots were stressed by how hot that deck got in summer. This patio gets early sun but has the pecan trees casting later shade.

    The 'Celeste' fig did okay for several years. My guess is that it didn't stay as dormant in the pot as it would in the ground, which made it more susceptible to the late freezes. If I add another fig to the menagerie it will be a Brown Turkey.

    I'm not sure why I don't want pillbugs in the containers as opposed to the ground. They're supposed to be harmless, but I suspect them of being secret bud-eaters.

    I also add more drainage holes if it's a plastic pot, but am too chicken to drill Terra cotta and crack it.

    Thank you all for the comments,


  21. Pecans are such beautiful trees. The only ones I've seen around here are at the Morton Arboretum. Unfortunately, they're a bit too big for my suburban lot. Thanks anyway.

  22. Two pecan trees are too big for my small lot too, Mr McGregor's Daughter, but whoever planted them 20 years ago did it anyway.

    I miss Morton Arboretum. Are there still Hellebores around the benches in that garden to the west of the Thornhill Center?


  23. Love your blog and what a great tip for the bottom of our pots.

    Tip: for those terracota pots from Mx. to preserve and finish them I picked up a tip from a Mx gardener (I live in Mx) Use a mixture of chapapote(road/roofing tar), paste wax and kerosene. Do this outside with extreme care: Melt tar and wax when it is liquified, add the kerosene enough to thin mixture to a consistency to paint on the outside and inside of the pots. When the pots have dried, buff them off to a nice shine with newspaper. Sorry, we didn't use exact amounts as the instructions were vague. Our new pots done a year ago are still beautiful, with no water seepage markings. This finish gives an antique like finish.

  24. Annie, thank you... Kate isn't the only one who benefited from some vicarious puttering around the garden via this post. It sure did my soul some good today, too.

  25. What a lot of work, but the result is gorgeous. I have been thinking of getting a fig, but I'm not all that crazy about the fruit so...
    The camellia is lovely! I've managed to murder my share of camellias, but perhaps I just haven't found a spot where they're happy.
    Lately, I've planted new treasures in pots and moved them when they languish until I find a spot they like. Then I plant 'em.

  26. I live in Tyler, Texas and have had good luck growing roses in containers. I don't use special soil. Just regular potting soil. And here we are in the winter season and I have a miniature red rose blooming outside in its terra cotta pot!
    Brenda Kula

  27. Lovely to see the camellia in full bloom. Would be more aptly named for a cardinal but I guess names of cardinals aren't as familiar as popes.

    Why didn't you plant the fig in ground? I planted a green variety, the name escapes me for the moment. It grew well the first year but I prematurely dug it up the following spring because I thought it was dead when it didn't sprout new growth by May. I could see that it was just starting to put out new shoots but it was too late to salvage the plant since I had cut most of the roots. I noticed several fig trees in the neighborhood and was surprised the seemingly tropical plant could survive in ground in NJ but some of the trees are quite sizeable - about 15 feet tall.

  28. Ooh, I like that window screen idea. I haven't had a problem with pillbugs so far, but I did have a nasty problem with ants in one of my pots last summer.

    I'm envious of your ability to grow healthy plants in pots. I have only one rose in a pot that doesn't look ready to kick it. I'm not sure if I overwater, underwater, not enough sun or what, but this summer I'm trying succulents, agave, and cacti in my pots, and it's going to be an experiment in benign neglect. My fingers are crossed.

  29. The thought of you on death's door but making Milo stop for a pot is killin' me.

    I am trying to plant all my plants in the ground. At least that's what I've been telling myself.

    I love the color of your camellia.

  30. I just love the Antique Rose Emporium. My first rose came from there - Silver Moon - and sat on my lap on a flight back to Charleston! Of course now, it is a threat to national security and could be used to house - well, folks that you don't want to 'escape' - it's formidable!

    I've only got one rose in a pot, a small Belfield rose - and I'm thinking about putting it into the ground this year (once I find out where all of the construction is going to happen). It's done pretty well, but it is a much smaller rose naturally than is Mutabilis. I have a large mutabilis in the ground - it is a beautiful rose, isn't it? How nice to see it out of your back window, or to enjoy it while sitting on the deck.

    Your garden images looked - well, warm. Nice!

  31. Hi Gin - thanks for the advice. Will this also keep the pots from cracking in low temperatures?

    Hi Blackswamp Kim - I'd be looking for some one writing about dirt if I still lived in Illinois - glad you enjoyed it.

    Hello Weeping Sore - no fig love? I like them, but the harvest has not been overwhelming so far!
    This camellia is hanging on - but would probably prefer to be in South Carolina.
    We moved here with the whole deck garden from our previous house, about 100 containers of all sizes and a lot of them are now planted out.

    Welcome, Brenda Kula - your city is famous for roses! I figured if I had to buy and haul bags of potting soil anyway, it may as well be the good stuff. Are you planning on starting a blog?

    Howdy Ki - that camellia looks different today! And almost everyone who ends up as pope spent some time as a cardinal!

    As to the fig - do you mean when I bought it 8 years ago? That's when we were in the land of deer and rocks, so I kept a lot of plants in containers on a gated deck.

    Or if you wonder why didn't I plant the one ejected from the pot - another fig tree was started from a cutting of this one and it is planted in the ground - it's grown taller than I am. I'd want a second variety if I found room for another tree, perhaps a Brown Turkey.

    The most compelling reason of all for discarding the pieces is that st compelling of all is that the tree roots were full of the creeping fig vine - no way I'd let that stuff loose in my garden!

    We had neighbors in IL who went to extraordinary lengths to keep fig trees alive through the winter... but here I see quite large fig trees in older gardens.

    Hello Lori - ants killed my gardenia before I figured out what was happening, and I've had plenty of losses - I tried roses on our old deck but they didn't make it there. As Chuck B noted above, more drainage holes are better and I add some perlite, too.
    None of this helps when the plant dies from being uprooted by squirrels!!

    Hiya, Chigiy- good thing we stopped because the pottery store was gone by the next trip!
    I still have a lot of plants in pots, but some are now in communities in large containers rather than in small pots that bake out fast.

    Thank you for the comments!


  32. I love the picture of the honeysuckle. I miss my flowers. I hope we get an early spring. My fingernails are longing for dirt.

  33. I'm so inspired by reading all the tips and info on the site. I moved to Austin from Savannah and have planted so many Earthkind roses (Belinda's Dream, Marie Daly, Ducher, Knockout and Mutabilis. In addition I was thrilled to find my neighbor in Austin has camellias, rhodos and azaleas that are huge. It's so much fun gardening here and I'm enjoying the fruits of my labor. I just planted two bansoo bananas and some pineapple guava which do very well here. You're just at that line where you have a real hot summer and a light winter.


A comment from you is like chocolate - maybe I could live without it, but life is more fun with it. I'll try to answer. If someone else's comment piques your interest, please feel free to talk among yourselves.