by Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s Garden Gal, Watters Garden Center
Container gardening is very easy, but there are secrets to ensure big, bold, overflowing pots to fill your spring landscape. With more than 50 large container gardens in my personal gardens, I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. Here are the most common missteps to avoid that local gardeners, myself included, have made and what to do instead.
1. Filling a large container in the wrong place — Have you ever tried to lift and move a large container filled with soil and plants? Even with a dolly it can be impossible. When using a large or unwieldy container, make sure to position it at its final resting place; then fill and plant the pot.
2. Selecting plants with different requirements — Make sure all the plants in your container garden share the same sun, soil and water requirements. At Watters Garden Center, we group companion plants together guaranteeing that plants in each container not only look good together but thrive from the same growing conditions.
3. Buying weak or sickly plants — Buying from a reputable local nursery, like Watters, is a good place to start in your quest for healthy plants. In general, plants will be disease and pest free and better cared for than those found at a big box store. You’ll also find a wealth of information and advice from the knowledgeable on-site staff.
4. Awkward plant-to-pot ratio — Consider the proportions of plants to container size and space. A large pot stuffed with short plants can look stunted and scroungy. A rule of thumb, and remember that some rules are meant to be broken, is to have at least one plant the same height as the container is tall. Also, plants that spill over the sides add to a pleasant ratio.
5. Overwatering plants — When leaves turn limp and yellow and fall off or the plant stops blooming, it’s likely that the container’s soil is too wet. Make sure your containers have drainage holes. And before you water, check to see if the soil is still moist. Put your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle; water when the soil that far down is dry.
6. Underwatering plants — Most container gardens need watering at least once a day during the warm months. Small containers and hanging planters may need water more often because there is less soil to retain moisture. Remember to water until you see seepage coming out the bottom of the pot.
If your plants dry out, don’t despair, even the most pathetic, limp plant can revive with a good drink. If the container is small enough, submerge the whole thing in a bucket of water until the air bubbles subside. For a large container, take a skewer or slender stick and gently poke holes deep into the soil to allow water to reach the roots.
Aqua Boost Crystals — These water-retaining crystals solve dry soil issues for mountain landscape containers. They hold water at root level and release it as plants need it. Not only do these unique crystals keep water close to the roots, they also encourage deeper root growth. They are ideal for small containers and hanging baskets. Wherever they’re used they cut water usage in half.
7. Starving your plants — Nutrients that were in your potting soil are either quickly used by the plants or washed out with repeated watering. Feeding container plants regularly is a key to success. Start with Watters 7-4-4 All Purpose Food to top off your newly planted container garden. Then encourage intense color and blooms with Watters Flower Powers 54 water-soluble container food used at two-week intervals. Watch the garden magic happen with this feeding regimen!
8. Fear of pruning — When your container garden looks leggy or ragged, don’t be afraid to cut back unsightly plants. Chances are that with a good “haircut” they’ll come back healthier and happier.
9. Living with sickly plants — When you’ve tried everything, short of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and a plant still looks dreadful, cut your losses and toss it into the compost pile or the trash. If only one plant in your container garden is icky, pull it out and replace it. Your other plants will thank you for eliminating possibly contagious diseases.
Remember, this isn’t brain surgery. There’s plenty of room for error. Have fun and experiment. Whatever your lifestyle or personality, you can create container gardens that will fill you with joy and bring beauty to your surroundings.
Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or she can be contacted through WattersGardenCenter.com or FB.com/WattersGardenCenter.