Containers are the easiest way to layer your garden or patio with your favourite plants. Container gardening is part of nesting and cocooning and we have certainly seen that through lockdown. It’s also a great way to grow herbs and veggies in small spaces as well as to show off a succulent collection. Using the correct soil mixture in your containers is the key so we have put this quick guide together.
How to plant up a container
The most common questions we get in the garden centre about containers are what about drainage and how often must they be watered.
- A drainage layer of River Sand is ideal. The silica sand acts as a filter and you will find the holes don’t block and the water running through will be clean, not muddy. This is great on your patio tiles and it also means that the soil level will not drop.
- Fill the container to about two thirds with your soil mix and press down firmly, then add more soil to the level where the plant roots start. Place the plant and fill around the sides pressing down as you go. The final soil level should be level with the soil of the plant going in.
- Be water wise when watering your containers. Always water your containers so that the water runs out the bottom. Less frequent deep watering is better than a little water more regularly as the deep water encourages stronger root growth. Pots in full sun need watering at least three times a week and shade containers twice a week. This also depends on the type of plants and how big they are as you might find you water more. Ideally your containers should not dry out totally between watering.
- Feed containers with water soluble fertiliser for best results. This gets the food all the way through the pot and is easier for the plants to absorb. Multifeed will encourage more flowers and the organic alternative Nitrosol will keep plants green and lush. Feed at least once a month and if you water daily then you can increase your feeding to every second week as the nutrients flush out the bottom with daily watering.
Potting soil quick guide
Plants roots need water as well as air to grown well. The key thing in successful container gardening is the drainage as well as friability which is connected to the type of soil and the speed that the water moves through it.
Garden soil in a container has little to no drainage and gets more compacted with each watering. Eventually the plants will degenerate and die so it’s just not worth it. Always use potting soil for the whole container. Compost is not potting soil and one should never plant into pure compost. Most compost mixes do not have high soil content and as such will not support good growth. Compost is a soil conditioner and not a soil replacement.
Our quick guide to the most popular different options available in the garden centre will help you make the right choice.
All Purpose Potting Soil: The standard mix of all purpose potting soil will do for most plants, indoors or outdoors. It is loose and friable draining very quickly. This does mean that in the beginning one might have to water more frequently but after a season as the plant establishes into the soil and less frequent watering follows. Use as is or as a base for your own mixes if you are a keep potter.
Herb Mix: A finer soil than all purpose potting soil which is ideal for use in small containers and supports herbs and veggies perfectly. Use to fill veggie boxes where you need a loose soil to grow root crops. In small terracotta pots it gives the perfect combination of drainage and support for good growth.
Succulent Mix: Succulents are water wise by their nature and ready to use succulent mix is specially formulated to support them. It has added silica sand to facilitate extra fast drainage for succulents in containers.
Orchid Mix: different orchids need different soil. We have two options here at Eckards. The Phalenopsis or moth orchids have a finer root system and as such the Pokon Orchid Mix is well suited for them. A soft and fine medium this orchid mix will retain just the right of moisture for their growth habit. The Cymbidiums which are more robust and grow outside for most of the year need a coarser mix which is what they get from the Culterra All Purpose Orchid Mix which has a courser bark chip as its base.
Bonsai Mix: Being in a small container, Bonsai need a soil that will hold on to moisture a bit longer to not let them dry out too fast. At the same time they don’t like to be water logged and as the tree grows the soil needs to support it so that the tree does not fall out the pot when it gets bigger or the wind catches it outside. The ready to use bonsai soil is perfect for beginners or re-potters alike.
Germination Mix: Germination mix is specially formulated to assist with the germination of veggie and flower seeds in trays. Added fertiliser crucial to the first stages of development and as a boost to young seedlings completes the mix.
Coco Peat: Coco peat can be used as a substitute for germination mix or used as a soil additive. Loose and airy it aids porosity and at the same time the water holding capacity makes an ideal growing medium for plants. Available loose in a bag or as the classic compacted brick.
Seedling Soil: A coarser soil mix for growing seedlings of veggies or flowers. It has a coco peat component as well as added fertiliser formulated for ideal growth. This mix can be used as a germination mix for bigger seeds or as a potting mix for containers where you are only growing annuals.
Our last bit of advice is on containers that you plant up with annual colour every few months. Eventually the soil will become tired and depleted of all the good stuff from constant planting. We recommend that you discard the soil every third summer or so and replace with fresh potting mix.