Eight Tips for Watering and Growing Container Plants

Container plants can make a beautiful addition to a garden, patio or front porch. However, once the leaves and flowers begin to wilt or turn brown, they don't look so good. Keep your container plants from drying and the moisture at a proper level to preserve their healthy state. Here are more suggestions.

Be Picky About Your Soil

You would think that using mineral-based potting soil or garden-rich dirt would give you a head start on raising healthy plants. But different plants need different types of soil. Learn to read the ingredients of potting soil. Good potting soil will contain peat moss, perlite and vermiculite, and pine bark. Stay completely away from soil from the garden. It could contain weed seeds or harmful insects or be disease-contaminated.

  • What Is Peat Moss? Peat moss is mined in remote bogs in Canada. It is a dead fibrous material that does a great job of holding onto nutrients. It can also manage water better than soil due to its lightweight structure and absorption rate. Used for over 100 years, peat moss is considered the best ingredient that you can find in potting soil.
  • What Are Perlite and Vermiculite? Perlite is glass that comes directly from volcanic ash, and it’s known for holding large amounts of water. It resembles tiny pieces of styrofoam. Vermiculite is another form of water-holding material; it is silicate and mined along the Canadian border. One or both of these ingredients help maintain the right amount of moisture required for starting most plants.

Water and air are critical components for starting any container plant. There are other homemade recipes for potting soil, but look for this combination in general commercial soil when beginning a program for watering container plants.

Select Plants That Love Moisture-Rich Soil

Not all plants are big fans of moisture-rich soil. Cactus, lavender, bearded iris and other varieties do not depend on the soil to maintain their moisture. Moisture is stored in their rhizomes, unlike most other container plants. If you are planning on having a variety of plants to fill your containers, keep the tags that indicate the type of moisture and watering needed. In the first year, it may be easier to choose all plants with similar care.

The Importance of Containers

You may have a terra cotta pot in mind, but think twice. Terra cotta and coir hanging baskets have a bad reputation for drying out quickly. Metal containers tend to overheat, cooking the soil and your plants. If you have your heart set on a certain container, you can still use it. Just know that there will be a lot more care required. Plastic or glazed ceramic are the best choices for keeping your soil from drying out between waterings. Make sure your containers come equipped with drainage holes.

Small containers can look cute when placed on patio tables, but they do not allow much room for plant roots. Shoot for buying containers at least 10" in diameter, and even larger if the space permits. The more soil and moisture, the better the plant can grow and absorb water and nutrients.

Water the Roots, Not the Leaves

We've all watched people on TV watering their plants with water containers that resemble a flowing rainfall. Leaves do not need watering. In fact, you could cause them to sunburn with the mirrored effect of water in the sun. Stay as far away from the leaves as possible and closer to the soil when watering garden containers.

Always Water Plants in the Morning

You may have heard arguments for and against different times when watering container plants should occur. The answer is to water plants in the morning. Sufficient moisture will be available to your plants throughout the day, and there is less chance that they will dry out in wind and heat. When container plants are watered in the evening, the foliage stays wet throughout the night, inviting fungal diseases.

Check for Moisture Before Watering

Feeling dry soil on the top of your container plants is not always an indication that they are thirsty. Remember, it is the roots that you are feeding, not the topsoil. Take your index finger and plunge it into the soil as far as it will go. If the tip of your finger is still moist, no watering is necessary. Overwatering can be just as bad as underwatering. Keep an eye on the weather, as hot, humid days can overheat your container plants even if the soil is fairly moist.

Water Thoroughly

It is difficult to know when the plant’s roots are receiving an adequate supply of water. Watering plant containers deeply enough to reach the roots may seem extreme, but too little water will force the roots to stay near the surface and not fully grow and spread out. Don't be afraid to drench your container plants until water flows easily from the drainage holes.

How to Rehydrate Your Container Plants

Forgetting to water your garden containers can happen from time to time. However, if your plant has dried out to the point that the potting soil is pulling away from the sides of the container, there is a remedy. Submerge your container in a bucket filled with water. Little bubbles will appear. Wait until there are no more bubbles and then remove the container from the water. If you have a really large container, poke holes in the soil and pour a gentle stream of water over the holes. Continue watering the soil until fully moistened.

Throughout the weeks, you may notice that some container plants are dryer than others. Not all plants need the same amount of water and moisture. Smaller plants have a tendency to dry out quicker than larger container plants. Keep an eye on the smaller plants and water two to three times per day as opposed to once. Plants are not difficult to raise and enjoy once you understand the importance of watering garden containers.

For more information on watering vegetables, read the following articles:

How to Water Cucumbers for Best Fruit Development

A Guide to Effective Lettuce Watering in Your Home Garden

How to Water Tomato Plants in the Garden

Watering Your Vegetable Garden the Right Way—Top Tips


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