Martha Swiss is a garden designer and consultant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She writes and teaches on a variety of gardening topics.

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Divine Intervention: Un-holey Containers Provide Freedom from Watering
by Martha Swiss       #Containers

This un-holey container measures 32 inches across and is brimming with geraniums (‘Happy Thoughts’ and ‘Vancouver Centennial’), pineapple sage, yellow zinnia, golden sedum and a pale yellow canna.

Watering containers becomes a boring chore when the dog days of summer roll around. Who wants to be lugging hoses and watering cans when it’s blistering hot? Those containers we enjoyed planting in the spring have flourished under our good care. Roots have swelled to fill the pots and foliage and flowers spill over the edges. Sure, they look pretty, but those big root systems and extensive foliage and flowers now require water — lots of water. Every day. Tending them can become drudgery.

One of the first things we’re told when learning how to plant containers is to use a pot with a drainage hole. It’s true that root systems of many plants will rot if they are left in soggy soil. But pots with holes allow water to drain out, thus requiring frequent watering, especially those filled with robust plants.

What if we could free ourselves from the daily watering grind? What if we could take off for a few days and not worry about our containers drooping and dying from neglect while we‘re gone? Well you can — by getting to know the joys of the “un-holey” container.

Place plastic nursery pots upside down in the bottom of your un-holey container. There should be enough space above them — 6 inches at least — to accommodate potting soil and plants.

Pour a good potting soil mix over the nursery pots and plant as you would any other container.

Meet the Hole-less Wonder

An un-holey container is simply one without a drainage hole. Forget what you have learned — you can plant in containers with no drainage holes as long as you provide a way for the soil to drain and the plants to be up out of the water. A simple and inexpensive way to do this is to place empty plastic pots from the nursery upside down in the bottom of the container.

Choose pots that are about a third to half the height of the hole-less container. Cluster the pots in the bottom so they are touching. Be sure to cover the entire bottom of the pot. The spaces between the nursery pots and the holes in the bottom of them provide room for the roots to reach down into the water. The area with the nursery pots will effectively serve as a reservoir of water and the bottoms of the pots themselves provide a support for soil and plants.

Once your upside-down pots are in place, pour a good-quality container mix over them to fill the container to within a few inches of the top. Plant as you would any container.

Think Big

Small containers dry out faster than big ones. You can use as tall a container as you want, and it should be at least 12 inches tall for best results. If you want the most carefree container of all, go for a large one, at least 2 feet across. Depending on what you plant and where you place the container, chances are you’ll only have to water a large container once a week.

Types of Containers

An Un-holey Container by Another Name
You might have seen “self-watering” containers sold in catalogs and at garden supply stores. These products work on the same principle as the un-holey container. They include a grid or fine mesh shelf that is positioned above the bottom of the window box or decorative container that has no drainage holes. These products often have a pipe that leads into the reservoir that is used to fill with water. Some even have an indicator to tell you when the reservoir is full and when it is empty.

Any containers made of watertight material will work. You can use plastic, glazed ceramic or metal containers without holes. Terra-cotta is probably not the best choice here since it breathes and will allow water in the reservoir to evaporate. Consider colorful plastic tubs, old troughs, and decorative ceramic containers that you might have previously disregarded for lack of a drainage hole. No requirement for a drainage hole means that you can look at potential containers in a completely new light!

How to Water

Water your un-holey container as you would any container — from the top. Before planting, get a general idea of how many gallons your container can hold in the reservoir. Be sure to use that amount of water and then some, to wet the soil. For the first few weeks, monitor the soil moisture and plants to see if they appear to be getting enough water. You don’t want to add so much that the soil becomes boggy. If you overwater, simply let the pot go without watering for several days, or tip the container slightly to let some water drain. In time you will learn how much to use. Like any container, you will need to add more water if it is positioned in full sun, or if the weather is especially hot or windy. And as the plants mature, they will need more water too. But you will spend far less time watering un-holey containers than conventional pots with holes, and your plants will thrive.


Photos courtesy of Martha Swiss.


Posted: 08/13/12   RSS | Print


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