PREPARING YOUR CONTAINERS
With the seesaw weather conditions, even if you can’t get your hands in the dirt, you can still scratch your gardening itch. With the official arrival of spring comes the inevitable need for seasonal cleaning chores. This is one for the garden. April is a time to get things ready on those teaser warm days.
In typical fashion, last fall I stored my containers in a rush and didn’t get around to cleaning them up. Cleaning them is a necessary chore unless I want to see all my hard work destroyed by pathogens and poor growing conditions.
WHERE TO START
The first order of business is to remove whatever accumulated over the winter. Leaves and debris always seem to find their way in so out they go. Make sure the container is brushed free of all dirt before the next step which is a rinse with the hose. If you have a “jet” setting, this is the time to use it. That strong stream of water will dislodge stubborn deposits and leave you with a pot ready for thorough cleaning and disinfecting.
DISINFECTING YOUR CONTAINER
A solution made with one gallon of water and 2 1/2 tablespoons of Lysol® Concentrate Disinfectantis all it takes. No need to use harsh bleach as in the past but do use rubber gloves. This solution disinfects and cleans at the same time. You may have to use a stiff brush or scrubby sponge on your container to get everything out. The combination of elbow grease and cleanser will do the job nicely. Let your container soak for 10 minutes in the solution if it is small enough to fit into the tub you used to make your mix. You might have to do that in two steps (one side at a time) if your container is too large to fit into your tub. A thorough rinse and air/wipe dry will finish the job.
Check your used containers and if you have new containers, make sure you have drainage holes in the bottom. That is critical. You can cover the holes with landscape fabric or window screening to prevent insect entry, but make sure the holes are there. Do NOT fill the bottom with gravel or packing peanuts or other material for a filler or to lighten the load. We now know those practices actually cause water to pool at the base of the container and prevent it from flowing out. If you want to lessen the weight of a large container, insert capped plastic beverage bottles (water, etc.) at the base so the water flows over them and out the holes. There is a terrific video by Joe Lamp’l who shows how this works and busts the gravel myth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o86pTAjqlDE
ELEVATING YOUR CONTAINER
Before you fill your container, figure out where it will go for the season. Then you can determine how you might elevate it. Elevation is important both for drainage and preservation of the surface where you place your container. Pot feet are an attractive way to do this but you can use bricks or any stable, flat object to accomplish this. You’ll want to do this before you fill your container and add weight to it. Moving it now when it is empty is far easier. Some gardeners put their containers on wheeled platforms instead of pot feet so they can easily move them to chase the sun as the season progresses.
WHAT ABOUT REUSING POTTING SOIL?
OK – now you can consider filling your container. But what about reusing last year’s potting soil? Sometimes you can do it, but most often you shouldn’t. It can be revitalized if you’re certain it had no insects, pathogens or disease, you haven’t used it too often, and you will not be growing the same plants in it this season. See what I mean? Unless you have numerous pots or very large pots, the cost of using new potting soil is tiny and much more economical in the long run than taking a chance on using the old stuff which you still need to amend regardless.
FILLING YOUR CONTAINER
Once you have addressed drainage and elevation, fill your container. The one rule here is that you must not use dirt from your garden. It’s too heavy, and won’t drain properly. Coast of Maine Bar Harbor Premium Potting Soil is full of nutrients and soil biology to organically feed your plants. Made with sphagnum peat, kelp meal, perlite, salmon and blueberry compost, aged bark, lobster compost, composted cow manure and dehydrated poultry manure, this premium mix is designed specifically for growing and maintaining indoor and outdoor container gardens. You’ll have to water and fertilize less with this compost-based dark brown, nutrient-rich potting soil. Bar Harbor Blend is formulated with approved organic ingredients to provide an ideal balance between water retention, soil texture, drainage and aeration.
Settle everything in with a good watering. That will eliminate air pockets. Leave about 2 inches of space from the top of the potting mix to the rim of the container so when you water it doesn’t run off the edges. You might even want to set up a soaker hose or drip irrigation system now before things get too hectic.
Congratulations! Your job is done; you are good to go.
These days I’m on the hunt for pansies. I love to see their cheery faces smiling back at me as the first container flowers I use by my front door and garage. This year, I will be ready! Will you?
Written by Lorraine Ballato, author of Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide