Container Garden Medic to the Rescue

Written by Nan Sterman

This time of year, its pretty hot in my garden – too hot to for new plants to go into the ground and too hot for me to be out in the garden all day. Instead, I turn my attention to my container plants. I have dozens of them, so several are always in need of attention. I walk the garden looking for pots in need of help:

Problem: Potting soil disappears from the pot to the point where the pot is only half filled!

This happens with low quality potting soils as their organic matter composts in place, especially if they contain a large percentage of wood shavings. This is also one of the reasons I started using Black Gold products. Over time, I’ve repotted pots suffering from disappearing soil with Black Gold Cactus Mix and Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Mix. These soils do settle a little – which is reasonable – but they don’t disappear.

Problem: Plants are leggy or too large for their pots.

Geraniums, for example, often grow leggy in a pot. When this happens, I simply give them a haircut. I cut the branches back to just a few leaves each. Soon, those branches will sprout new shoots and fill back in. I cut the prunings in sections, four to six inches long, including at least a few leaf nodes (nodes look like joints). I tuck these new cuttings back into the potting soil or plant them into a new pot. Most root quickly.

Larger plants, particularly woody plants like shrubs and trees, eventually outgrow their pots. Some can live in a pot for a long time – the pot keeps the root system from growing large, so the plant stays relatively small. But most shrubs and trees need to be moved to larger and larger containers, or to the ground if you want them to have a full, long life.

Problem: In mixed plantings, a few plants eventually dominate while others disappear, leaving ugly voids.

With some experience, you’ll know which plants tend to dominate and which disappear. If you plan ahead, you can put together combinations where plants are more evenly matched. Or, use weaker plants as temporary fillers while the more dominant plants put on size.

Problem: Unglazed terra cotta pots develop a nasty looking white crust.

This happens often in areas with “hard” water. Hard water is filled with minerals that stay behind as water evaporates. The minerals form the white crust on the pots. Now, just think about how much is left behind in the potting mix!

Empty out the pot, and if you can, bare root the plants. Wash the pot off with fresh water, using a stiff brush to scrub off the salts. Refill the pot with fresh potting soil, then replant.

Problem: Water runs down a gap between the potting soil and the edge of the pot.

If there is enough space between the potting soil and the pot for water to run down, shame on you! The potting soil has dried out to the point of being hydrophobic – “afraid” of water. Really, it means that it repels water instead of absorbing it. Set the pot in a basin of water and wait for the water to wick up to the top. Once the potting soil is saturated, remove the pot from the basin and let it drain.

If the pot is really large, use a trowel to break up the edges of the hardened potting soil as best you can. Then, turn the hose on to a drip – and I mean a drip, not a slow stream – and set it to drip onto the potting soil for hours. When you plunge a long screwdriver into the soil and it comes out wet all the way along the shaft, that’s enough.

Now, water often enough to keep the soil damp enough to avoid a repeat performance.

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