Cistus In Pots – Complete Guide

Almost any plant can be grown in a pot, even trees. So Cistus plants can be grown in pots. 

Actually, drought-tolerant plants like Cistus, (Rockroses), are ideal for growing in pots because the soil in containers will dry out faster than on the ground.

Cistus (rock roses) in pots

Cistus plants are also great for outdoor pots because some Cistus types are quite cold-hardy, which makes it easier to keep them happy over winter. I have prepared a Cistus hardiness chart to guide you on the best ones for your climate.

There are many possibilities for cistus in pots because they come in all shapes and sizes. You can choose taller cistus like Cistus ladanifer and C. creticus, or you may prefer shorter and rounded cistus such as C.salviifolius and C.albidus , or even dwarf types like C. crispus.

You may also like to plant in groups, where a taller cistus can be the centrepiece plant and the smaller cistus as filler or spiller plants.

Before we move forward, feel free to grab your complimentary guide on Cistus. It’s nicely packed into a PDF format for easy offline downloading and reading.

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    How to plant Cistus in pots

    In this section, we will go through the key points you need to consider when planting a Cistus in a pot.

    Choosing a pot for Cistus

    When you choose a pot for your Cistus, you should consider other important things besides aesthetics.

    Anything that can hold soil and drain water at the bottom can be used as a container for plants. However, the size, shape and material of the container are key in determining the success of your potted plants. These key aspects have a direct effect on the water availability and insulation of your plant.

    The container size

    The general rule is the larger the plant, the larger the container. As Cistus plants grow quite large, especially Cistus ladanifer or C. laurifolius, which can reach a height of 2m (6.5 ft) or more, you will need to consider large containers. If you don´t have much space, you may need to choose a smaller cistus like C. crispus.

    However, when growing plants in containers, they will not reach the same size as when they are grown in the ground. Pots limit the growth of roots and, therefore, the size of plants. Nevertheless, plan for large containers when the plant reaches maturity.

    Basically, the container needs to be big enough to provide room for the roots, hold the necessary water for the plant, protect from winter temperatures, and be stable not to tip over.

    If your pot is too small:

    • The Cistus will become rootbound, growth will be stunted.
    • The soil will dry out quickly.
    • Will be more exposed to winter temperatures. 
    • May fall over easily because the pot is not stable for too big of a plant

    If your pot is too large:

    • The soil will stay wet for too long because the roots will not be able to absorb water from all the soil. This will cause the roots to stay damp and possibly rot.

    Aesthetically the size is also important. There needs to be a balance. A common design rule is the container should be about half the height of the plant. So for example, if you will go for a Cistus ladanifer which can reach 2m (6.5ft), then the pot size would need to be about 1m (3.2ft) tall. If you choose a smaller Cistus like C. crispus which reaches only 40cm (1.3ft) then the pot should be about 20cm (8 in) tall, but since it can spread quite widely the pot should be wide enough not to look awkward.

    But I have seen plants in pots without this rule that look lovely also. So in the end, aesthetics is really up to you based on your preference.

    Upsizing

    I suggest you choose the size of your pot based on the size of the pot the Cistus is currently in. As a general rule of thumb, you should upsize 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) in diameter. This will allow extra room for growth as the Cistus matures.

    The Cistus will be better off if you change the size of the pot as it grows, instead of planting it in a large pot right away.

    The Cistus will give you 2 important signs that it needs to be repotted, such as:

    • It needs to be watered more frequently
    • The roots start growing out of the drainage holes.

    In general, the cistus will need to be transplanted once every two years until it grows to mature size. Nevertheless, keep an eye on it for the signs.

    Repotting

    The best time to change your cistus to a new pot is during the spring. 

    Make sure the container is larger than the current one, has sufficient drainage holes and has good quality soil.

    Remove the Cistus from the current pot, loosen its roots and then place it into the new container. Cover the roots leaving some space below the rim to allow room for watering. Finally, water it thoroughly.

    The Container Shape

    When choosing the shape of your container, you should not only consider its ornamental characteristics but also its stability and water retention.

    Stability

    The shape of the container determines if it´s stable enough to keep the plant from falling over with the wind. This is especially important if the cistus is tall and dense.

    Square and rectangular pots are the most stable. Then come the cylinder pots. Finally, the least stable ones are the more traditional inverted cones which tend to tip over easily.

    Water Retention

    The shape of the container affects the water retention capacity. Even when containers have the same volume and potting mix, the water will dry out faster in a tall, narrow container than in a short, wide one.

    This is due to the perched water table, which will be at the same height regardless of the shape and size of the pot.

    pot shape and perched water table

    The image shows two pots with the same volume and potting mix and, therefore, the same perched water table height. 

    As you may see, the tall, narrow pot holds less water than the short, wider pot. Also, the water is further away from the roots in the taller pot.

    So with this in mind, and knowing that Cistus plants have quite deep roots and need good drainage, you will choose a pot that is preferably tall and narrow.

    The container material

    The material that the pot is made of should also be considered when selecting a pot for your Cistus. There are different materials, such as Plastic, Metal, Cast cement, Terracotta, Glazed clay, Wood and many more.

    The material has a significant impact on the drainage of the soil and the insulation of the roots.

    Soil Drainage

    Pots made of plastic, metal and glazed pots will resist water loss and keep the soil moist for longer.

    Pots made of porous material such as terracotta or wood will soak up water from the soil and release it easily, enabling quick drainage of the soil.

    For your Cistus, which prefers dry and well-aerated soil, you will want to choose a pot with a more porous material such as terracotta or wood.

    Insulation

    The temperature of pots with a porous material such as terracotta and wood will not fluctuate as much as plastic or metal materials. Therefore the porous material is a better option to insulate the roots from extreme temperature fluctuations.

    However, in the winter, terracotta pots have the inconvenience of breaking easily with freezing temperatures. 

    This happens because the water that gets into the pores will expand when frozen, cracking the pot. So to minimize this, you may want to wrap the terracotta pot with plastic to prevent it from getting wet.

    The best soil for Cistus in pots

    Mediterranean plants, such as Cistus, need well-aerated soil with good drainage. Soggy soil is a real problem for them.

    If you want your Cistus to be happy, you will need to imitate their natural environment as well as possible, starting with the soil.

    The potting medium for your Cistus should have the following characteristics:

    • Well aerated
    • Good drainage
    • Hold on to nutrients 
    • Retain some moisture 

    There are many recipes for potting mixes, but for drought-tolerant plants like Cistus, you will need to add more quantity of an ingredient with large particle sizes such as coarse sand, vermiculite or perlite. This is necessary to ensure that the potting mix has excellent drainage and aeration.

    how the size of soil particles affects drainage

    The image shows how the amendment with a large particle-sized ingredient (ex: coarse sand, vermiculite or perlite) affects the soil’s drainage.

    How to care for cistus in pots

    If we plan to grow Cistus (rock roses) in containers we must not forget that plants in containers are more susceptible to the dryness of the soil, the effect of extreme temperatures and the inaccessibility to nutrients.

    Cistus are very tough plants and tolerate harsh environments. However, they still need special attention when grown in containers.

    Because containers have a limited quantity of soil, watering and fertilizing become necessary, even for established Cistus.  Additionally, the roots in a container are more exposed to temperature fluctuations, so care must be taken to protect the roots.

    How often to water Cistus in pots

    Even though Cistus plants are drought tolerant, and do not need to be watered once they are established, this is not the case when they are grown in containers.

    How often you need to water your Cistus will vary depending on the weather, the potting soil, the type of container, and the exposure of the container to sun and wind.

    • Weather: During the winter, the plant will need much less water because it is not actively growing and is not as hot.
    • Soil: If your potting soil does not drain easily, you will need to water it less frequently than if it has excellent drainage.
    • Pot material: If your pot is made of a porous material, you will need to water it more frequently than if it’s made of plastic or a glazed material.
    • Pot size: If the pot is smaller, it will need more watering than if it´s larger.
    • Exposure: If your Cistus is exposed to long hours of sun and winds, then it will need more frequent watering than if it has some shade and is in a sheltered position.

    This means there isn’t a “one fits all” schedule for watering your plant. So you must observe your Cistus regularly to see if it needs watering.

    How to check if your plant needs water

    You should not wait for the plant to show severe signs of wilting or to die due to excess moisture. 

    The easiest way to know if the plant needs water or has excessive moisture is to stick your finger in the soil and feel how dry or moist it is.

    In the case of sandy soils, which are the best for these plants, I do not recommend using a moisture meter because even when the soil is moist, the probe cannot detect the moisture accurately due to the air pockets in this large particle soil. So the reading will always be “dry soil”, and you will inevitably overwater your plant.

    How to water your potted Cistus

    In the case of drought-tolerant plants like Cistus, you will need to let the soil dry out completely before watering again. The rule is to water deeply and infrequently.

    When you notice the soil is dry, then it is time to give it a deep watering. You must wet the soil completely until water drips out of the drainage holes.

    After this, let it be until the soil has dried out again. You may be surprised by how long your Cistus can go without water. You are better off giving it less water than overwatering.

    If you notice a gap between the soil and the pot, then you should press the soil against the wall of the pot to close this gap. Otherwise, the water will flow right out through the gap. This is more common when you pot your plant, and the soil is not yet tightly pressed.

    Finally, you may want to cover the soil with some mulch, ideally gravel, to help conserve moisture in the soil. This will also give some extra protection from the cold temperatures of the winter months.

    Overwintering Cistus in Pots

    A Cistus in a pot is less hardy than in the ground. This happens because the parts of the plant above the ground are hardier than the roots. When roots are out of the ground and inside a container, they are more exposed to cold temperatures.

    Plants in pots are also more prone to freezing and thaw cycles. If your plant is in a sunny spot, as Cistus should be, it can warm up considerably during the day and freeze at night, which is very hard on the root system.

    So to minimize the problems, I have the following tips:

    • Choose a Cistus that is more cold-hardy than your zone ( generally 2 zones under).
    • Plant the Cistus in a large container (but always matching the size of the plant). The larger the pot, the more insulation it will have around the root system.
    • If the pots are not too heavy, move them into a cold frame, a shed or a more sheltered location outside and cuddle several pots together.
    • Dig a hole in the ground, place the pot inside and cover it up to the brim.
    • Wrap the pot with a thick layer of burlap, bubble wrap or straw.

    Don´t forget to give your plant a deep watering at the end of the season and then keep an eye on it during the winter and water it when needed.

    Usually, cistus will not need watering in the winter. Still, when they are in containers, they may need to be watered not to let the roots dry out which can easily happen in a container because of the limited quantity of soil.

    Fertilizing cistus in pots

    Like most Mediterranean plants, Cistus prefer poor soils. However, when they are in pots with a limited amount of soil, they will consume all the available nutrients after a certain period. 

    So it is necessary to give them some fertilizer from time to time, to replace the nutrients.

    Companion plants for cistus in pots

    You can plant Cistus in their own container or mix them with other plants that have the same hardiness, sunlight and water needs.

    Lavender, Rosemary, Santolinas, and Helichrysum will all go well with cistus plants.

    Given the same conditions, you can freely choose the size, shape and colour combinations of your preference.

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