One of the most popular ways of using plants today is in containers or decorative pots. They do have many advantages: you can enjoy your plants on a patio or deck, or by your back door, even if you have no room for a full garden; they will make a nice show with just a few plants; and they do not require the volume of water that a bed does, though they will probably require more frequent attention to watering. In addition, weeding is not the problem for containers that it is in garden plantings. I have included some pointers for successful container plantings, because it is a wonderful way to enjoy some of those plants you’ve successfully started from seed! Following are helpful hints for attractive and healthy container plantings.
1. A Big Enough Container2. A Good Watering System
One of the most frequent mistakes in container plantings is starting with a container that is too small. This means that it dries out extremely fast so you have to water twice a day, and it also means that plants’ roots have no where to develop, which will keep them from flourishing as they should. An 18-inch pot is good for multiple plants or large plants, such as Elephant Ears. Smaller single specimen plants can use a 10 to 12-inch pot, unless they will grow bigger than 18 inches across.
- Drip irrigation has a number of advantages: it conserves water, you can turn the whole thing on at the faucet, and you can even leave it on if you go on vacation or have a real hot dry spell.
- Self-watering pots are a life-saver, too – the bigger ones will last up to a week (4 days if it is really hot and dry) and put the water at the roots, right where it\'s needed.
- Hanging baskets need more water than other containers, because the containers are usually smaller and all their surfaces are exposed to the air. This is especially true of wire or plastic strip baskets lined with fiber.
3. Plenty of Plant Food
Plants growing in a container need more supplemental nutrients than plants growing in the ground, and will need to be fertilized every week or two during active growth. Algoflash is great for this, especially combined with a slow release fertilizer sprinkled in the medium at planting time.
4. Good Drainage
Yes, a container can have too much water! A few plants (Juncus, some of the carnivorous plants, anything that likes boggy conditions) do like to have a little standing water at their roots, though most plants’ roots rot in such situations. A few other plants like to be extremely dry and pot bound, such as Clivia. For most plants, however, the ideal is an evenly moist, but well-drained soil!
5. How to Prepare Your Container to Ensure All the Above!
- Choose a container with a drainage hole in the bottom, or a self-watering container, which will have the drainage hole(s) incorporated in the inner pot. You may want to line the bottom of the pot with irregularly shaped stones to further promote good drainage. Be sure the drainage holes are not obstructed. You might have to check them periodically during the growing season to be sure they are not stopped up. It also helps to elevate the container slightly off the surface it is sitting on; attractive pot lifters are readily available.
- Use a soilless medium, a good container potting mix, to provide your plants the proper drainage and tilth. Mix timed-release fertilizer into the potting medium, using the instructions on the fertilizer packaging.
- Place the potting mix in a plastic tub or bucket and slowly add water while gently mixing, until the potting mix is moist but not damp. Add the moistened mix to the container until it is ½ full. Remove the plants from their pots, gently break up the sides of the root balls with your thumbs and set the plants in the mix one by one, spacing them much more closely than you would when planting in the ground. Then add more potting mix until it is within 1 to 2 inches of the brim and tamp it down lightly. If you have a large container and plants with shorter rootballs, be sure that you place your plants at the same depth that they were in their original containers.
- Water thoroughly.
- Set up your watering system. If you plan to water by hand, be prepared to water every day, especially when summer weather is very hot. If you are using drip irrigation, set up the lines according to instructions and secure them in each pot you plan to irrigate. If you are using a self-watering pot, be prepared to add water every 4-7 days, depending on how hot and dry the conditions are.
- Fertilize every 1 to 2 weeks with a balanced fertilizer20-20-20 or a natural fertilizer. You can attach a fertilizer siphon mixer (make sure it has a backflow preventer) to the hose at the faucet for drip irrigation. You can also add the fertilizer to the water you put in the bottom of your self-watering pot. If you water your outdoor pots by hand, just add the fertilizer to your watering can once a week. If you use a hose to water, employ a fertilizer siphon mixer with your hose once a week, or simply water from a can with the fertilizer added, rather than using the hose at your weekly time for fertilizing. If you are using a fertilizer with a high concentration of salts and keep your plant more than one season, you will need to keep an eye out for salt build-up (whitish residue on the rim of the pot or the top of the potting mix). You may need to leach out your pot by flushing with plain water.
- Provide proper winter care. If a long-lived plant that you value is not hardy in your zone (an Encore Azalea, Juncus, Tropical Hibiscus, Brugmansia), you might want to bring it inside as soon as frost threatens, container and all, to grow in a sunny spot over the winter. However, most container plantings should be dismantled in fall. Tender annuals or perennials can be added to the compost heap, but you can plant your hardy bulbs, perennials and shrubs in the ground. Empty the potting medium and store your pot under cover. Only plastic and fiberglass pots, or specially made, high-fired clay pots can be left out over winter without risk of cracking. The potting medium makes a great additive to your beds, and next year’s container plantings will be nice and healthy starting with fresh potting mix.>