This fall I’m starting a brand new patio garden at my new home in Eugene. One of my first steps was acquiring some nice containers. My patio does have some soil around the edges, but it’s fairly shady and the soil is filled with tree roots, so I’m focusing on planting in containers for now.
Plants in containers are much more susceptible to overheating, lack of water, or drying winds than plants in your garden beds. In order to be successful in growing plants in containers you need to choose your containers carefully. Here are six common mistakes gardeners make when choosing containers for their patio garden:
- Terra Cotta – Most gardeners love the look of terra cotta. The problem with terra cotta containers is that they lose moisture rather quickly. The biggest danger for plants living in containers on a patio is uneven moisture. Most plants need damp roots and will die if you let them dry out frequently. If your patio is very damp and shady terra cotta may be a good choice.
- Dark Colored Containers – In sunny weather dark colored plastic, metal, or wooden containers can heat up quickly damaging you plants’ roots.
- Containers with No Drainage – It’s fun to recycle vintage containers for planting, but you can’t plant directly into a container without making sure it has some sort of hole in the bottom so that excess water can drain out. Plants breath through their roots, they need oxygen. If you over-water a container without drainage you could drown your plants.
- Containers that are Too Small – Small containers can’t hold much soil and so dry out quickly. In dry or windy weather you can water in the morning and the soil in a small container may be dry again in a couple of hours.
- Recycling Containers Without Sterilizing – In healthy garden beds the microorganisms in the soil help fight off plant diseases, but potting soil from your local nursery is sterile. Containers that you buy new from a nursery shouldn’t be carrying any plant diseases but if you get containers used you should always wash them with soap and water and then rinse with a diluted mixture of a little hydrogen peroxide and a lot water. This treatment should kill anything nasty that could be lingering from old plantings.
- Forgetting to get saucers or pot feet – Pot saucers are important for small containers, without them water will run straight through your potting soil and might not soak in. For larger containers pot feet can be used to keep your pots off the surface of your patio. All your containers need something to keep them off the surface of your patio because otherwise you risk permanently damage or staining.
I have been frequenting garage sales and have managed to acquire several attractive, barely used containers for my patio garden. The smallest containers I use are at least six inches tall and wide and mostly I like much larger containers. Besides being easier to care for large containers allow me to group different plants together to create attractive displays. Normally I’m not a big advocate of using plastic, but I don’t feel bad about saving nice plastic containers that might otherwise go to a landfill. You can also get attractive wooden containers or biodegradable containers made from corn. I haven’t tried the new biodegradable containers yet, but I’m hoping that they will be a durable, attractive alternative to terra cotta and plastic. What are your favorite containers? Do you buy your garden containers new or up-cycle them?