By Melinda Myers
Growing flowers and vegetables in containers will allow you to expand planting space, grow plants right outside your door and elevate them for easier access and maintenance. Unlike growing in the ground, the smaller volume of soil in containers is exposed to heat and wind, so requires frequent, often daily, watering.
Don’t let this watering schedule discourage you from growing in pots. Enlist one or more of these strategies to eliminate the daily burden of watering while still maintaining beautiful and productive gardens.
Grow plants in large plastic, glazed or other less breathable material to extend the time between watering. The larger the pot and less breathable the container material, the longer the soil stays moist. Small pots made of breathable materials, like unglazed terra cotta, dry out more quickly.
No matter the size and type container used, monitor and adjust your watering schedule based on weather, number of plants in the pot and size of the plants. The more plants used and the larger the plants grow the more water needed; so, frequency will increase over time.
Use self-watering pots to extend the time between watering. Fill the reservoir in these containers as needed. The water moves from the reservoir to the soil where it is needed. This extends the time between watering. As your new plantings grow, you will need to fill the reservoir more frequently.
Use a quality potting mix that holds moisture and is well draining to avoid waterlogged soils that can lead to root rot. Most potting mixes contain peat moss, compost or bark to hold moisture. Vermiculite, perlite or rice hulls are used to provide drainage.
Add a long-lasting sustainable, water saving product, like wool pellets (wildvalleyfarms.com), to your potting mix. This organic product is made from belly wool and tags that cannot be used for clothing. The pellets promote healthier growth, increase soil aeration and reduce watering frequency by as much as 25%.
Mulch the soil surface in newly planted container gardens. This common garden practice is often overlooked when growing in containers. Cover the soil surface with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material. This helps conserve moisture until plants grow and shade the soil.
Automate watering with one of the many commercial or DIY container irrigation systems. These are designed to provide water to each individual pot with the turn of the faucet. Attach the irrigation system to the faucet, attach a timer and watering becomes a breeze. Regularly check the system to make sure the lines that deliver water to the pot are intact and the watering frequency is adjusted throughout the growing season as needed.
Enlist one or more of these strategies to make container gardening a manageable growing system. Once you eliminate the inconvenience of daily watering you may just find yourself planting more container gardens each season.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Wild Valley Farms for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.