The Potted Desert Vocabulary

It will be a lot easier if we are on the same page when I talk about different aspects of container gardening. You won’t necessarily find these definitions as such in any dictionary. Many, such as pot sizes, are based on my experience and how I framed things when I ran my business, The Contained Gardener. My definitions are arbitrary, and ones that I found worked in communicating with my staff, clients and those who attend my workshops. 


Annuals are flowers that need to be planted each year or season, depending on the climate.  

Perennial flowers Perennials are flowering plants that live for many years, bearing flowers usually one season a year. Some perennials will bear flowers twice a year in certain climates. 

Some flowers come in different varieties and are either annuals or perennials. For instance, there are perennial Salvias (Salvia officinalis) as well as annual Salvias. They may be the same plant, grown in a warmer, native climate, or two different species, known by some growers as cousins, and Lobelia is one. 

Succulents – Plants with thickened stems or leaves to retain water. Cactus are a subset of Succulents. 

California Succulents – Marylee’s Term: Succulents are grown in California for full sun and brought to desert climates where they can only be grown in part to full shade, especially in the summer. 

Cactus – Succulents with spikes or thorns and lacks leaves. 

Edibles include vegetables, fruits, and herbs. However, fruits may be trees too. 

Pot Size 

Defining pot sizes is very important. I have had people tell me they have a large pot, and when I ask them to measure it, it is 14 – 16 inches. In the desert, that is not large. 

When you measure a pot, you need to measure it across the interior diameter, which means, from inside the rim across to the other side. I do this because the rims of pots can range from ¼” to two inches, which significantly adds to the pot’s reported measurement. 

I don’t talk much about the height of the pot. Generally speaking, when I talk about a pot, if it is 20″ interior diameter (ID), it usually will be about 20″ tall. These are standard pots.  

Yes, many differently shaped pots range from low bowls to tall, skinny pots. I discuss these more in style or plant needs, not in measuring. 

Marylee’s Classifications of Pot Sizes 

Glazed pots rainging in size from 24" down to 16"

These pot range in size from 16″ to 24″


15-17″  Med 
18-23″  Large 
24-28″  XL 
29-34″  Jumbo 
35-45″  JXL 
3×3′   Raised Bed by Section 

Using these defined sizes, we can discuss the materials needed to fill the pot, i.e., soil, number of plants, when the soil needs to be changed, even watering. 

>> Your first job is to go out and inventory your pots and track the number you have of each size. If you want, you can note the height if different than standard and the material and color. 

Plant Size 

The nurseries have been changing the sizing of their plant containers over the last few years. I include those most common, list them by name, and generalize the size. I use containers or pots interchangeably, and if a distinction is needed, I will use the term nursery container.

After this, we get into box-size plants, which we don’t use for pots.  

Here’s a handy chart that outlines much of what I said above.

You don’t need this, but I know my science-minded followers like this detail. ? 

Table with plant sizes defined by The Potted Desert

Potted Desert Container Size Chart


I advocate three types of fertilizer; time-release, watersoluble and organic. 

Time-release fertilizer, often called slowrelease, is just that. The fertilizer release nutrients over several months. It can be organic or natural, organic fertilizers that add nutrients to the soil by decomposing. I am more experienced, however, with manufactured time-release fertilizers, which look like tiny multicolored pellets that look like a large, round grain of sand. Coated with plastic resin or polymer, the fertilizer beads break down from water and heat. 

I will talk about this fertilizer in the Planting Tips material presented later. 

Water-Soluble Fertilizer comes in powder form and is mixed at a prescribed proportion to water. It dissolves in a watering can or is used in an applicator attached to your hose. The powder may be blue or white, giving you some indication of when it is depleted in the applicator’s container. 

I will talk about this fertilizer in the Care and Maintenance material presented later. 

Organic fertilizers are made from mined minerals and natural plant and animal materials. They include combinations of ingredients such as manure, guano, ground bone, crushed shells, finely pulverized fish, phosphate rock, and wood. Providing nutrients to the soil and root system by decomposing over time, these fertilizers will not give a quick correction to the plant’s health. They will provide a healthy diet that keeps the plant strong and resistant to pests and disease.  

 Water Thoroughly 

I continually talk (do I hear harp?) about appropriate watering. The definition I need to make here is about “Water Thoroughly.

“Water Thoroughly” means to water with a shower setting on a hose nozzle, gently over the entire surface area of the soil until water comes out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.