Start Your Garden Pots Off Right
Plants grown in containers rely on you to provide them with a clean garden pot, drainage to prevent waterlogging, and a compost to suit their needs.
Preparing Garden Pots
Before planting, clean all pots, including new ones, with hot, soapy water to reduce the risk of transmitting diseases. To ensure that the compost does not become waterlogged, check that there are drainage holes in the base; if not, use a drill to make some.
Terra-cotta pots benefit from a plastic lining to help prevent this porous clay drawing moisture from the compost. Metal pots can overheat in the sun, so line them with bubble wrap to keep the plant roots cool. Pierce the linings to provide good drainage.
Many tall and sprawling plants benefit from additional support to keep them healthy and cropping well. Fasten tall plants, such as cordon tomatoes and peppers, to sturdy stakes or trellis with soft twine. Peas have tendrils that allow them to climb and grasp twiggy sticks and netting, while climbing beans will twist their stems around stakes made into a pentagon shape, but they need to be tied on first. Fruit trees and bushes trained as cordons or fans should be attached to taught wires or trellis as they grow.
There are many composts on the market and choosing the right one can seem complicated, but the decision is largely between soil-based and multipurpose types. Some multipurpose composts contain peat, but environmental concerns about peat extraction has led to substitutes, such as coconut fiber. Soil-based composts provide a steady supply of nutrients, and retain water and drain well. They provide good conditions for long-term growth and are particularly suitable for fruit bushes and trees.
Multipurpose compost, with or without peat, is easy to use and lightweight; it’s the best choice for hanging baskets but is not suitable for pots in exposed sites where they may blow over. It also dries out quite quickly and doesn’t hold many nutrients, increasing the need to water and feed plants.However, multipurpose works well for short-term crops, including many vegetables. Seed compost is formulated for sowing and has a fine texture, which encourages high germination rates. It is also moisture retentive and low in nutrients, which is best for seeds.
Spreading a thick layer of material, known as a “mulch,” on the compost surface looks attractive, helps to retain moisture, and prevents weed seeds from germinating. Mulches also help to prevent surface compost being washed away with repeated watering. Organic mulches, such as leaf mold, add nutrients and organic matter to the compost. Other options include bark chips, gravel, and slate, which provide a decorative touch. For maximum effect, apply a layer of mulch at least 1in (2.5cm) deep after watering the compost.