Planting a container garden couldn’t be easier. All you need is potting soil, plants and slow release fertilizer. That said, there are some things it’s helpful to know before you get started.
Make Sure Your Container has Enough Drainage
Drainage may be the single biggest factor on whether your plants live or die. Make sure that your pot has a big enough hole or holes in the bottom to let excess water drain away. There are many garden pots sold in stores that have one tiny hole in the bottom that will not let enough water escape, so you will either have to be very careful in watering the pot, or even better, you should add more holes.
If your pot is metal, you can poke holes by using a hammer with either a large nail or screwdriver. If your pot is ceramic, it can be a little more difficult to add holes, but I’ve had good luck using a drill with a ceramic bit. Don’t forget to wear safety goggles, because it is common for piece of the container or dust to fly around and you don’t want to risk getting them in your eyes. Remember, the more holes the better drainage. Many more plants are killed by drowning than not enough water, although I have done my share of plant murder by both so don’t feel bad.
The second part of the drainage equation is keeping the soil in while letting the water out. I like to use window screening over the holes, but I have also used coffee filters, paper towels and even newspaper in the bottom of my pots. Whatever you do though, avoid the suggestion to put gravel in the bottom of your pots to increase drainage. It doesn’t work, and in fact is it can be counterproductive. It is also a good idea to elevate your pots, so that the water isn’t blocked from exiting out of the drainage holes. There are any number of ways to elevate your plants, but pot feet are the easiest.
Remove Your Plants from Their Nursery Pots Carefully
When I first started gardening 40 years ago, I would grab it by the stem and pull to get it out of its pot. Often, I would just pull the top of the plant off sometimes killing it before I even got started. To avoid this, if you have a six pack of plants, that is made of flexible plastic, hold the plant close to the soil surface. I make a “v” out of my fingers and place them on either side of the stem and squeeze the plants out of their holder from the bottom. If the plant is in a nursery pot, try pushing it out from the bottom. If it is root bound, you may have tear or cut any roots off that are sticking out the bottom hole of the pot and slide a knife around the inside of the pot, before the plant will slide out. In extreme cases, you may have to break the pot to free the plant due to being root bound.
If your plant is root bound, make sure to break up the plant’s roots, either by tearing them or cutting them. Some people simply rough up the roots on the outside by rubbing them, but I’m a little more aggressive and often tear or cut a compacted root ball so the roots will be able to grow freely, not in a circular pattern, which can strangle a plant.
Mix Fertilizer into Your Soil
It took me years to realize that I was starving my plants to death. Most plants need food to survive and the easiest way I’ve found to provide food is to mix a slow release fertilizer into your potting soil before planting your container. I use a granular all-purpose fertilizer into my soil. I also then feed my plants with a diluted, liquid fertilizer every week or every other week during the growing season.
There are two main things to know when planting a plant in a container, or anywhere else for that matter. You want to plant it at the same level that it sits in its nursery pot. So, in other words, the level of the soil should stay the same and no more or less of the plant’s stem or crown should be covered. You also want to make sure there are no air pockets and your plants’ roots are surrounded by soil. In a crowded pot, sometimes it is difficult to put soil in between the plants, but you will need to make sure that you do, or the roots will dry out if they are in an air pocket, and your plant can die. Sometimes you just need to feel around a crowded pot and stuff soil into any holes you feel. It’s also a good idea to water a pot right after you plant it, which settles the soil. At that point you can go back and fill in any holes or depressions with extra soil.
Caring for Your Container Garden
Watering is more art than science. You will need to know what conditions your plant or plants prefer. However, the majority of plants like to be kept in moist soil–not wet–but damp. To figure out if your plants need water, you can stick your finger down into the soil, up to the second knuckle. If your finger tip feels dry, add water. Be sure to water slowly and make sure the water is going to your plant’s roots–not bouncing off the soil and running down a space that can form when the soil contracts, between the soil and the inside of your pot. You want to water deeply so the water gets all the way down to the plant’s roots, the best way to know if you’ve accomplished this is to water until it starts to run out the bottom of your container. I have had an overwhelming amount of questions from readers the last month! More than I can address here so will respond to you guys personally. Until next time…Happy Gardening!!
Send your landscaping and gardening questions to Jimmie Gibson Jr. at http://www.absolutelybushedlandscaping.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Jimmie is a Prosper resident and the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company, an award winning, family and veteran owned and operated business created in 1980 to provide the highest quality custom Outdoor Renovation available to homeowners in the Dallas Ft. Worth area.