8 hints for caring for container plants

June 30, 2015

Whether you are working with houseplants or containers on your patio or deck, here are eight hints to keep in mind.

8 hints for caring for container plants

Plants in containers require special care

When plants are in containers rather than being grown more naturally in the earth, they require special care — especially when they are being grown in a climate far removed from their normal habitat, as container plants often are.

1. Make big planters more portable

  • Reduce the amount of soil and lighten the load by first filling one-third to one-half of the pot with empty aluminum cans, crushed plastic milk containers or Styrofoam packing peanuts.
  • It will save on mess when repotting if you enclose these filler materials in mesh onion bags.
  • Finish filling the planter with soil and add your plants.

In addition to making the planter lighter, the bottom layer of lightweight filler will improve the drainage in large containers.

2. Drill for drainage

Every pot that holds a plant must have drainage holes so excess water can escape.

  • Drill holes into wood or fibreglass containers, but concrete or ceramic planters may break when drilled, even if you use a masonry bit.
  • When you want to use a pretty planter that lacks drainage holes, line the bottom with an inch of pebbles and set a pot with proper drainage holes inside on the pebble bed.

3. Plant a cache of tea bags

  • For healthier potted plants, place a few used tea bags on top of the drainage layer at the bottom of the planter before adding a plant.

The tea bags will retain water and leach nutrients to the soil.

4. Prevent potting soil leakage

When you're repotting a plant, line the bottom of the pot with a coffee filter, a used dryer sheet, a small piece of window screening or a few dried leaves to keep the soil from leaking out through the drain hole.

5. Put in a quick refresher

Before you spend time repotting a container-grown plant, try top-dressing the surface with a fresh helping of potting soil instead.

  • Remove a few centimetres from the surface of the old potting mix and use a fresh mixture to refill to the original level.
  • Dump the used soil in your flower beds.

6. Stop cats from digging

  • If your feline companions like to scratch in the soil of potted plants, cover the soil with pebbles, seashells, aluminum foil or plastic wrap.

Just as cats can't stand a dirty litter box, they will change their minds about scratching in a difficult material.

7. Clean pots with vinegar

  • When you have several pots that need cleaning before they can be reused, soak them in warm, soapy water, scrub them with a stiff brush and transfer them to a bucket filled with 250 millilitres (one cup) of vinegar to each four litres (one gallon) of water.
  • Rinse the pots well before refilling.

The vinegar will help dissolve any mineral deposits that survived scrubbing.

8. Raise pots

Indoors, set pots in plant saucers filled with pebbles — an easy way to aid drainage and raise humidity at the same time.

  • Outdoors, you can use decorative "feet" or make your own from small wood blocks, used thread spools or plastic jar lids.
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