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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.

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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?

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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!

One of the most prized and interesting ecogarden community plants is this stinging nettle. It lives in a container, which is especially important for this very vigorous and prolific beauty. It spreads via underground root-shoots and if allowed to it would fill vast areas.

Of course the most well-known property of stinging nettle is how just-plain-painful it can be to touch it the wrong way. It’s really that bad… those thousands of little needles are like tiny syringes, instantly injecting a whole cocktail of nasty chemicals designed to cause maximum annoyance under the skin of any mammal.

Nettles are actually edible and full of protein, vitamins, and other goodness. Dried or cooked, the needles lose their sting. It makes a good tea.

There are a bunch of alleged remedies for nettle stings, including the juices of various herbs. I find that if I can get to the hose within a few seconds, a very hard spray of water directly onto the stung area for at least 30 seconds does a great job of flushing the nasty chemicals from the injection point. It still stings, but the hurt goes away a lot faster.

When visitors come to the ecogarden, I try to remember to warn them about the dangerous “nettle zone” of the upstairs deck. Also present in this happy container: a dozen or more fat sunchoke tubers (unharvested as yet, partly because of the nettles in the way). In the above photo you can see their sprouts just coming up – there’s one down at the front, just to the right of the gray rock. There are also smaller herbs including chickweed, strawberry, fringed willow-herb, sorrel, Santa Barbara daisy, and more.

See what this container ecogarden looks like by the middle of May, when the nettles are blooming.

Read more about stinging nettle in this fascinating Wikipedia article