Anyone that has tried their hand at container gardening knows that one of the most difficult aspects of growing in a container is keeping your plants watered. Container gardens need watering much more frequently that other types of gardens, especially in hot or windy areas. While it might seem difficult at first to keep your pots from drying out, there are many tips and techniques that you can use to make your container garden watering more effective.
Choosing the right containers for your plants is very important. The containers that you use will directly impact how often you need to water your plants. They determine how well your soil can drain, and even how large your plants can grow.
When selecting a container, you will need to consider the unique needs of each type of plant that you will be planting. If you are growing greens like lettuce or spinach you can use a shallow container. Vegetable plants that produce fruits like bell peppers or zucchini will need a deeper pot since the root structure is more complex. Generally these plants will need at least 18 inches of soil underneath them. If you are looking for ways to water less frequently, remember that the larger the pot the longer it will hold moisture and the less often it will need to be watered.
The shape of your pot will also determine how frequently you will need to water. Pots lose the majority of their moisture from the exposed soil at the top of the pot. Try to choose containers that have straight sides since they have more soil with a smaller surface area than containers that are wider at the top than at the bottom.
Your container material can also have an impact on how fast your plants dry out. Avoid plastic pots whenever possible since the outside of these pots tends to get rather hot and can dry out your soil. Once the soil is too dry water will run right through the pots making it difficult for your plant’s roots to get the moisture they need. If you want to use plastic pots, choose a double-walled ones. Avoid unglazed terra cotta as well, because it will actually draw water out of the soil. Container color can also have an impact — select lighter materials to reflect the sun’s heat rather than absorb it.
In addition to traditional pots you will also find specialty pots that are specifically designed to make watering easier. These self-watering pots typically have a special water reservoir at the base which will allow the soil to absorb additional moisture as necessary. These pots are typically more expensive than simple garden pots, but they can be quite effective in reducing the necessary frequency for watering your container garden. There are also self-watering conversion kits available that allow you to add a water reservoir to your existing pot.
Soil and Soil Additives
Having the right soil is also important for keeping your plants moist and well-watered. Since your plants will have to rely on the soil in your container, it is especially important to choose a nutrient-rich soil. Commercial potting soils are often a great choice. Many gardeners find that adding organic materials like peat moss or compost to their soil will help improve the moisture retention in their pots. This is very important in container gardening. Placing a layer of mulch on top of your soil will also help slow evaporation.
If you want a soil that drains well but still holds plenty of moisture for your plants you might want to consider using a soil additive. Terra-Sorb Hydrogel tends to work well. These small, non toxic crystals can be easily added to any potting mix. They can absorb as much as 200 times their weight in water. Then, as the soil dries out, they release this water. As the crystals break down over time, they turn into a potassium fertilizer which will nurture your plants and help promote growth.
Another way to keep your containers moist is to use a watering system. Hydro Mats are super-absorbent mats that will wick up water into your plants as needed.
You may also want to use a drip watering system. These are sold under many brand names but generally consist of a tube which is inserted into the soil and a bulb or container that holds water. These drip mechanisms use gravity to release water drop by drop rather than in one big rush. They are a great choice for keeping plants watered during trips out of town, although they are often more effective in small pots than in larger ones.
Container gardening has many benefits, and if you use these techniques you will find that it isn’t too hard to keep up with your watering.
Darlene Hester says
I love on So. Cal’s coast with a temperate climate, but we have very hard water, so are forced to have a water softener, creating highly alkaline water. I garden in pots due to space limitations. I did my homework and planted alkaline tolerant plants, but some, like lantana, still don’t do well. What can you recommend I should plant this spring in the way of perennials and annuals to replace those now suffering from salty soil. Also, is there an additive I could put in the soil when I plant or repot which would counteract the salty water I’m forced to use?
Thanks so very much.