This is my story of container planting that taught me a lesson, the right container for the right plant. Seven years ago I bought a Japanese maple from a mail-order plant supply company. The catalog said the plant is ideal as a specimen, a foundation choice for a large building, even a container plant. I thought of my 2 foot-square blue concrete container that sits on a granite slab on the lawn.

I have seen many gardens on garden tours. That is a great way to learn about gardening. One thing that always interests me is how gardeners use container planting. I like to learn what plant varieties can grow in a container, outside, for the season.


This is my story of container planting that taught me a lesson, the right container for the right plant.


Seven years ago I bought a Japanese maple from the mail-order plant supply company Wayside Gardens, one of my favorites. The plant variety was Acer palmatum dissectum "Tamukeyama." I had often dealt with Wayside, so I was familiar with its plants.


The "Tamukeyama," an elegant and strong red-leaf maple, has been cultivated in its native Japan for nearly 300 years. Since specimens have been known to live for a century, I knew this tree would be around for many generations to enjoy.


The lacy, finely dissected leaves mature from crimson in spring to purple in summer and to brilliant scarlet in fall.


The catalog said, “Growing 8 to 10 feet tall and cascading to 12 to 15 feet wide, the rounded habit forms an elegant silhouette. ‘Tamukeyama’ is ideal as a specimen, a foundation choice for a large building, even a container plant.” When I read the word "container," I thought of my 2-foot-square blue concrete container that sits on a granite slab on the lawn. It would be ideal for this plant.


So I bought the Japanese maple, prepared the soil, and then carefully potted the plant.


This maple grew for several years, never too big, and was quite colorful on the lawn. From time to time I would trim the leaves to keep them from touching the lawn, but that was the only thing I did to the tree.


Last summer I noticed that some of the leaves were turning yellow. I watered a bit more. Water however was not the issue. The plant had outgrown the pot. I decided to transplant the maple.


As I began the work, I noticed what looked like a small branch under the pot. The branch measured about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. It was not a branch, but the tree root. The root had grown through the hole at the bottom of the container and had started to root in the lawn. From the pot the root measured about 3 feet.


In order to dislodge the tree from the container, I had to cut the large root. The tree still had many other roots, but much smaller ones. I immediately transplanted the tree in a semi-shaded area.


This summer the tree died. I replaced it with another Japanese maple.


What I learned was that a plant needs space to grow to its full size. The Japanese maple may not be the best choice for a container.


Thomas Mickey is a master gardener from Quincy, Mass., and a professor at Bridgewater State College. You may reach him at thomasmickey163@gmail.com.


The Patriot Ledger