How to Plant Succulents in Vintage Containers

 

No green thumb? Say it ain’t so! Here’s a foolproof succulent-planting method for vintage containers without drainage holes.

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So you say you have a bit of the old black thumb? Despite what you may think, you're not cursed to kill every plant you touch. Fact: Most plants sold at your local hardware store are pretty hardy and low-maintenance. (Hint: Follow the light and planting recommendations found on the little tab sticking out of the soil.) When it comes to planting succulents, choosing just one plant will be the toughest thing you’ll do in this process!

Vintage planters are everywhere: You seriously can’t hit up a stoop sale or flea market without seeing a hundred of them usually sitting empty, in need of a few good plants.

Why buy vintage containers, you ask? Because they’re a heck of a lot cuter than Ikea’s and boring terracotta ones, they’re often cheaper, too (think: 25 cents people!) and they make any old plant look like a million bucks.

Vintage planters come in nearly any size, color, and material (carved gourds, redware, porcelain, ceramic) and have an authentic, handmade feel that everyone appreciates.

Now: Ready for the easiest, quickest, most rewarding planting lesson ever?

STEP ONE: Mise en place, or Gather Ye Supplies

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Just as any good chef worth her salt can attest that the key to cooking up a quicker, more efficient recipe is having all ingredients ready to go, and literally at your fingertips.

You’ll need:

  • Vintage planter

  • Healthy succulent

  • Stones, pebbles, or gravel

  • All-purpose potting soil

  • All-purpose granulated plant food (Miracle-Gro, Osmocote, etc.)

  • Shovel (but bare hands will do)

  • Water

  • Love (aw!)

STEP TWO: Create drainage

Photo: Barry Dixon Interiors

As with any naturally growing plant, good drainage is vital. Too much water creates harmful bacteria, deprives plants of oxygen, and rots plant roots. Line the bottom of the planter with a one-to-two-inch layer (depending on the size of the planter) of gravel, stones, or river rocks (like the dollar-store specials we’re using here). The stones create a barrier separating excess water from roots.

STEP THREE: Add soil

Photo: Niche Interiors

Using a shovel (or your hand), fill the planter halfway with new soil, reserving space for the plant’s original soil, too.

STEP FOUR: Mix in fertilizer

Photo: Marcelle Guilbeau Interior Design

Mix granulated fertilizer into the new soil, following package instructions. Handy, shakable plant foods, such as Osmocote and Miracle-Gro, slow-release nutrients over a three-to-four-month period and are activated every time you water. Alternatively, you also can top-dress the soil with fertilizer.

STEP FIVE: Get planting

Photo: Lincoln Barbour for Jessica Helgerson Interior Design

For this project we chose a heavy, attractive art-pottery stoneware vase (yes, vase because you're allowed to be creative) that was signed on the bottom by the artist. We liked its bulbous shape and spattered-pink colorway. We also chose the vertically-growing Sansevieria trifasciata (a.k.a. snake plant and mother-in-law’s tongue) to complement the vase's organic shape and also for the plant's height and hardiness—it thrives in any light, likes dry soil and air, and rarely needs to be repotted.

Squeeze the bottom of the plastic planter and turn the plant upside down to loosen plant from planter.

Photo: Anthropologie

We were lucky enough to grab a two-fer, so we split our plant in half for double the planting pleasure. To split, we grabbed the root ball with both hands, gently working our thumbs into the space between the two plants, and slowly pulled them apart.

Photo: Merida Studio

Sink the plant (along with some of its old soil) into the vintage planter, burying the roots and centering the plant. Add more soil if necessary, but leave about ½ - to 1-inch space above the soil line.

STEP SIX: Give her a tall drink of water

Photo: Niche Interiors

Slowly pour water into the planter so muddy soil doesn’t ooze over the planter's sides. Allow water to seep into soil. If deep, bare air pockets form in soil, add more soil to those areas. If you ever over-water your succulent, just tip the pot into the sink and allow excess water to drain. Let fully dry between once-per-week (if that) waterings. Remember: Succulents grow in the dessert—they prefer parched soil.

Et Voilà!

Photo: Cowtan & Tout

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