May 28, 2009 in Washington Voices

Let your garden beds go to pots

Pat Munts
 

Short on garden space or don’t have or want to spend a lot of time gardening? Container gardening may just be for you. You can even grow vegetables in large containers in whatever space you have.

Use the largest pot you can. Containers 14 to 16 inches in diameter or larger are easier to keep watered in the hot summer weather than smaller ones. Vegetables often need large pots for their root systems. The pot should be made of plastic, high density resin, hard fired ceramic clay or lightweight Styrofoam. Terra cotta and fiber pots made of pressed paper, coco fiber or peat are porous and allow water to evaporate quickly. The popularity of container gardening has resulted in a broader selection of good looking pots at reasonable prices.

Use a quality potting soil with a blend of compost and very fine bark with a little perlite thrown in to improve soil texture. Steer clear of any soil with visible wood chips in it. Don’t use ordinary garden soil as it will pack down too much and is really heavy. Some potting mixes have water holding components that store extra moisture until it’s needed by the plants. Container soil can be used for two or three years with no problem. If you have soil from last year’s pots, mix a little fresh soil into it.

Refrain from using pine cones or packing peanuts in the bottom of outdoor containers. While it does make the containers easier to move, the cones and peanuts take away from the soil water reserve the plants will need later in the summer. If weight is a concern, use lightweight plastic or Styrofoam pots or buy an inexpensive wheeled pot stand to move the plant.

Watering is a big challenge when growing in containers in the Inland Northwest. Our hot, windy, dry summers can suck the life out of a container planting in a matter of hours. Most containers will need to be watered every day or two. If that proves to be a challenge for you try a few of these tricks.

Mix water retaining granules to the soil to hold extra water before you plant. They come either as a chemical polymer granule or a natural starch based soil amendment that will hold 200 to 400 times their weight in water. Some of them have fertilizer included. Be sure to follow the directions on the container though, as too much can create overly wet soil.

Look into the new drip system kits that are designed to hook up to a faucet or sprinkler head and then run drip or micro spray heads right to the pots. They are easy to install with simple tools and flexible enough to run to hanging baskets. Place them on a simple timer of some sort and you will never have to rush home to water the plants after a hot day.

Skip adding peat moss to container mixes to hold water. Peat moss dries out easily and is very difficult to get wet again. It can actually act as a wick to pull moisture out of a container.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at pat@inlandnwgardening.com


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