Now is a great time to prep your containers

When you can smell spring in the air, it is time to begin some projects.

planting containers
Various containers are waiting to be cleaned for the season. John Zvirovski / The Sun

After a little setback in the weather this past week, we are back on track with spring. Of course, the sun and the warmer weather get my blood churning to begin preparing for the season to come and the recent shot of rain was a godsend! When you can smell spring in the air, it is time to begin some projects.

Cleaning out containers is one of those projects that can be done now. Gather all of the pots and items you plan on planting for the garden, porch and decks and empty them of their contents. Next, retrieve a stiff brush, a sponge with a scouring pad or a heavy, rough washrag for cleaning. Rinse the containers out with clean water and wipe them dry.

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Prepare a cleaning solution with either a mild soap or a cap full of bleach per gallon of water. Dip your brush, sponge or rag into the solution and scrub the inside of the containers thoroughly before rinsing again and air-drying them. This will prevent any carryover diseases, fungus or pest eggs to transfer into the coming growing season from the previous year. It also allows you to begin your container planting with clean products before filling for the season.

There are many types of containers that you may have for your yard. They may come in the form of fiberglass, ceramic, resin, plastic, concrete and terra cotta. Whether you have them in your inventory or you are out shopping for new ones, the most important trait you can look for is a drainage outlet. Plants do not fare well when they sit in soggy soil for any period of time and it can be quite detrimental to your container plants in the outdoors. If the container does not have a drainage system, drill some holes in the base to allow free flow of excess water.

Some containers such as concrete and ceramic may be too difficult to create drainage holes without damaging the container. If this is the situation you are facing, fill the bottom third of the container with rocks or pea gravel for a reservoir below the growing medium to catch the excess water.

There are a few things to remember with the various container materials available. Plastic and resin containers are best for keeping the soil temperature consistent, as they don’t absorb heat readily.

Materials such as steel, concrete or ceramic containers can become very hot in the sunshine and will literally bake the soil and root systems causing poor plant vigor. One of the best ways to treat this situation is by placing a plastic liner in the container first with approximately one inch of air space between the liner and container being used. If you have an old utility container that you saved from a bush or a small tree previously planted, these work great for this purpose. You will find this technique will greatly improve your plant production in these types of containers.

Terra cotta or clay containers may pull the moisture from your soil to the container, thus causing you to water a little more frequently. A nice little trick to "treat" the container before planting is to soak them in a container of water for 2 hours before planting. By doing this, the water is not pulled from the soil after planting, giving the new plants a head start in their development. If your container is too large to submerge, plug the drainage hole on the bottom and fill the interior of the container up to the top and let soak for a few hours, then drain into another container for watering purposes later on. By keeping the soil moist after planting, the pot will act less as a wick for moisture. The soaking of the container only assists in starting your plants on the onset, frequent watering of these containers will be needed later on as they will still absorb moisture from the soil.

The planting medium used in containers should not be topsoil or dirt from the garden, it should be a potting soil or organic blend for best results. These blends are light, hold moisture well and usually come with a time-release fertilizer already in the mix. If topsoil or dirt is used, you will find that it becomes rather hard and cracked in a short period of time. This material will have a difficult time absorbing moisture and does not allow enough airspace around the root systems for optimal growth.


A tip when it comes time to plant your containers is to always remember a simple rule of thumb: Always have your plant material be two-thirds of the height of the total ensemble. If your container is 2 feet in height, make sure that the tallest plant material is at least 3 feet in height. Always use odd numbers when placing plants in the container for a better visual effect and use odd numbers of containers for grouping them in a display.

If you are using trailing plants in your container, remember that these are covering a portion of the planter. The "visual" height of the container itself will look decreased, meaning less height is needed in the central plantings of the container.

With these tips in hand, you can now prepare your containers by cleaning them first and then filling them with the proper soil mixture. Then you just have to wait until the weather has warmed enough to plant your items when the time comes. Remember, by planning ahead, you can save yourself time during the busy months later in the spring when the season is fully underway.

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