Container Gardening

Redwood wine barrel from the Olivia White Hospice Garden. Contains sweet alyssum, callibrochia, purple sage, silver brocade, lobelia, & pennisetum.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Watering Pots

Water in the southwest is a precious commodity. Even though I have plenty of room for ground based gardening I live on Mt. Eldon in Flagstaff, at about 7000 feet. The soil is very rocky, volcanic, and does not have much in the way of minerals. It is a neutral soil even with all the pine needles. I don't have grass and much of what I grow that is ground based is native. Shrubs are Wood's rose, cliff rose, apache plume, fern bush, snowberry, and mountain.spray, of which many grow here on the mountain. Other shrubs include pyracantha, euonymus, and shrubby cinquefoil. Perennials include sages, penstemons, agave, yucca, prickly pear cactus, agastaches, cinquefoil, fireweed, gaillardia, columbine, alpine strawberries, Richardson's geranium, and bulbs I add for spring color (squill, snowdrop, daffodils, and species tulips). Most of these don't need much water once established.

I do most of my labor intensive gardening in pots including some vegetables and fruits (peas, lettuce, spinach, herbs,  and tomatoes). Over the years I have learned a great deal about water saving ideas from working at the Arboretum, visiting High Country Gardens, and doing my own research for teaching container gardening.
The pots that work best for me to save water are self-watering plastic containers. Others I use are resin or glazed terra cotta because of our cold winters. On my back deck which is south facing, it gets quite hot. Ideally you should be able to get afternoon shade for most plants at this elevation.  I do have some areas that do - with others I cover them (my umbrellas from Oregon come in handy) or I have them on trolleys and move them to shady areas. The tomatoes seem to do fine with sun most of the day and with self-watering pots only need water every other day in the hot part of the season. Initially when planted about every 3rd or 4th day.

There are many other ways to save water with pots. For my non food crops, especially hanging baskets I use Soil Moist (about a heaping teaspoon for a 1-2 gallon pot) mixed in the soil when planting. I also line hanging baskets with some of my Remay (frost cloth). Other options are peat which is in most packaged soils, or coir which is less endangered. It comes in a small brick and when water is added there is enough for most of my pots. Both do the same thing - hold moisture longer.

Water in the am before the winds start and use a simple drip system for clustered pots. Both save water. There are also water mats you can put in the bottom of pots that hold moisture. If you have a small pot and your going to be gone for a few days you can use a water cone with a soda bottle on top, Some local nurseries also carry a clay cone that you put in the soil and place any bottle on - even a wine bottle if you want things to look more interesting. Warner's also carries something called a Pot Minder. It hangs on the side of a pot (holds significant water for a small pot) with a sensor that sends water to a clay piece placed in your pot that slowly oozes water as needed. Natives from Mexico used ollas. This is a terra cotta container that you bury in a pot and keep full of water which slowly oozes out into the soil. Last of all don't forget to mulch.

Many of the above garden items are available at most garden stores. I purchased some of mine at Home Depot, Warners, and Watters in Prescott. This summer I will take photos so some of these can be viewed in my garden.

Happy Gardening

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