Container Gardening Tips

By “Green” Gene Sottosanto
Container gardening offers distinct advantages. Paved areas such as your patio or entry can be beautified with an addition of living art. If plants in your container lose seasonal appeal, or need to have their exposure to sun changed, they can be moved to a better location.
There are as many different containers and ways to use them as there are ideas conceived and plants available. An old shoe with a cutting from the neighbors overflowing succulent or an individually handcrafted and finely fired pot with a rare fruit tree may be chosen. Many books have been written on the subject. Despite so many possibilities, there are a few methods and some basic understanding that simplify success.
It is best to use a handful of loose material like broken crockery over the holes in the bottom of pots to aid drainage. Raising pots above the ground with spacers or feet helps drainage and prevents wood decks from rotting. In very rare and carefully tended situations, a plant may survive in a container without holes (such as a glass terrarium with a bed of charcoal).
The right soil mix may be derived from various sources. A good place to look is under old trees where leaves have decomposed for many years. Fresh green leaves, fallen flowers, coffee grounds, and other fresh organic material can be added in moderate amounts for free nutrients, better drainage and/or improved water holding soil texture. Packaged mixes generally have a lighter-weight mix of sterile soil and are convenient and helpful especially for a top layer free of weed seeds. These commercial products are not necessarily better than the soil in your garden or compost. The need to feed varies according to soil and plants used.
Many fine specimens are grown in small containers, however smaller outdoor containers dry out easily, especially when they are of unglazed clay exposed to sun and wind. They can be kept watered if regularly attended to, but when soil becomes dry, it becomes more impervious to water. The easiest way to check water content of your pots, especially plastic ones is by checking their weight.
Dry lightweight containers should be picked up and submerged for a penetrating soak that will last. Filling a bucket or basin with water from the hose is an easy way to start the soaking process. An easier and even better way to do it is using captured rainwater or untreated pond water. A good compromise is to use water that has set for a while.
Compost tea or soil soup made by soaking a sock full of finished compost or earthworm castings in a bucket of water is a most ideal solution to soak your plants in. Let the filled sock sit in a bucket of water for at least a full day if you can wait.
Submerge potted plants carefully so that the light soil does not float up. It helps to put a rock, brick or another plant on top to hold it down. When bubbles stop rising, the soak is finished. The plant will now be happier and will accept future water more easily. A layer of soaked sphagnum moss on top of the soil or any other form of a mulch layer helps keep the soil moist.
A pot full of pretty flowers is more apt to dry out than many other choices. Try something different. Perhaps a mixed variety of succulents in a shallow terracotta pot may be placed on a wrought iron stand or as a centerpiece on an outside table. Succulents are interesting the year around and they are versatile with weather conditions. Though they are more forgiving, they also need to be watered regularly in the warmer months.
Container plantings can be miniature landscapes and when they are circular, they can be turned and viewed from many different angles. Wiping buttermilk on your old terracotta pots will encourage moss to grow on the sides. Old boats have been planted with vegetables and old wheelbarrows are perfect for flowers. With a basic understanding and so many choices, have some fun with your own choice of containers.
“Creative container gardening” in Orange County Home on August 2002