up-potting an eco-pack


Here is a smallish eco-pack, whose main feature is a beautiful little Solanum “potato vine” (maybe S. seaforthianum or S. jasminoides) climbing up a post in the middle. This plant was deliberately placed here, sprouting from a bulb harvested from a client’s garden in San Jose, CA. I’m going to up-pot it into the round black pot.

150222-1213Right: The vine is not the only plant in the eco-pack. It also contains a tiny little stinging nettle deep in one corner. There are also a few small seedlings of scarlet pimpernel and Kenilworth ivy plus a few other seedlings that are still too small to identify.

When up-potting an eco-pack (or planting it in the ground) it is important to do our best to preserve as many of the plants as possible. Let’s see if we can keep the little nettle and the other seedlings.

Placing a few fingers directly on the soil (between the plant stems!) I invert the pot and squeeze it gently with my left hand. After a few squeezes the whole thing slips easily out.


Above: The pack has been very carefully removed from its pot and the destination pot has a bit of good planting mix in the bottom. This is the perfect time to up-pot this eco-pack because the roots have grown enough to hold the soil together but not so much that they are sucking the last bits of nutrients out. We want to see the roots around the outside, but we also want to see a good amount of soil.

150222-1227Right: The pack and its rectangular chunk of soil rests on the planting mix in the bottom of the new pot. I do not “rough up” the root ball in any way – in fact I am very careful to preserve every bit of its structure. There are several kinds of plants here and their roots are deeply entwined. Let’s not damage them!

With one hand I scoop a bit of new planting mix and very gently pour it down into the open slots along the edges of the root clump, all around the outside. I am very careful not to pour any planting mix onto the existing soil surface.

Still very gently, I use two or three fingers to push down the new planting mix, adding more as needed until there is a new level surface outside of the plants that were already in the eco-pack.

A gentle shake and bump-bump of the pot settles the new mix into place. The results are below. Can you see the tiny stinging nettle, still happy at what used to be the corner of the old pot?


One more thing. Any time a plant’s roots are disturbed, and especially if they are in contact with new, dry soil, it is important to give a serious watering. With the hand spray set on “shower” mode I give it a good deep watering, until it drips out the bottom.

That’s it! Now this little vine and its community will have some room to grow bigger!

  1. I hope you don’t mind a question from a non-gardener, but why don’t you want to get any of the planting mix on the surface of the plant?

    • Hi, thanks for the good question.

      When up-potting (or planting) an eco-pack, I try to disturb the existing ecosystem as little as possible, even if we are just talking about a bit of open ground between the seedlings in the original pot. The soil surface itself is an ecosystem – if you could make yourself 1,000 times smaller, you could hike around in there and see all kinds of amazing stuff, including moss and algae plants, fungal hyphae, and critters like mites and springtails. They all form a complete ecosystem even at that tiny scale.

      By preserving that tiny ecosystem and carefully avoiding disturbance of the roots, we give the whole eco-pack a real help in its integration into its new home. This is all part of the principle of least disturbance, which is one of the basic pillars of deep nature gardening.

      This principle is also why we are always careful not to step on the ground in a deep nature garden. Every footfall not only compacts the soil, it is as if a giant foot had descended on an ancient redwood forest, crushing down the trees and all the other life forms. We might not be able to see all those life forms, but if the soil surface is undisturbed they will definitely be there!

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