Container gardening


Instant gratification: Flowers planted in a beautiful container, to be placed anywhere you want! Container gardening is  fairly easy, but not without its challenges.

The most common problem is water–too little or to much. One solution is to set up a self-watering system: run a wick  through the hole of a new pot (leaving about three or so inches outside), and loop the wick throughout the soil before you put the plant(s) in. Set the pot and wick in a saucer full of water, and it will help with the problem of dryness. Wicks can be made of any water-absorbent material: a long strip of a sheet, cotton rope, actual wicking material, so forth.

Water evaporates fastest from clay pots; solution~~varnish the inside, or use a plastic pot inside of your clay or porous decorative pots. Nutrients are leached faster out of containerized soil. Old soil needs to be replaced or rejuvenated, so its best to fertilize every two weeks.

Grouped containers look better than single ones (unless the latter is very big). Arrange pots at different heights; light-colored containers lessen heat absorption. Sun cooks the roots, use insulation or thick pot material to protect. Heat reflects off a balcony or patio floor; raise your container a little.

If you have glazed pottery with no hole, you can drill one or several openings in the bottom using a masonry drill bit. I have even used this method on china and antique containers without breaking one. Go slowly (dont let the area get hot), have a sharp bit, and put a slab of wood under the container bottom to absorb vibrations and shock. Glazed pottery can over-winter outside if the container soil is dry-ish, if  the pot  is not directly on the ground, and if no snow is allowed to directly get on it.

Another solution to wintering very large pots outdoors is to wrap them in bubble wrap or insulation, and then cover with burlap for a neater appearance. If you really love your large plants in containers, you can put electric heating coils inside the pot. The coils come on automatically at 34 degrees and may be purchased off the internet from sites that sell farm products and earth-heating devices.

When making up a new container, first put a filter (screen, paper coffee filter, sink filter) loosely over the drainage hole to keep soil somewhat in order. Then add styrofoam peanuts as the first bottom layer–for aeration of the roots. Next add a bagged potting mix  for containers (its cleaner with no pathogens from the ground soil). Mix in  perlite or vermiculite for porosity in shade areas, or the new moisture retentive gel to retain water.

Next, water thoroughly when you are 3/4 of the way through to ensure that the deep-down soil has been moistened. Put your plants in, water again. Cover the top with mulch or pea gravel to reduce water loss. Voila!

Next week, I will have a list of plants that do exceptionally well in containers, as well as tips for grouping plants.

Nancy Burns, owner of  Garden Ideas, is a Certified Master Gardener; Horticulture Information Director of  District 2–Natl. Capital Area Garden Clubs; Belle Haven Garden Club President; and Secretary, National Capital Orchid Society. Please contact