Watering container gardens

Container garden are an attractive way to liven and bring color to patios, balconies, porches, or satisfy the urge to garden if you have a green thumb, but limited space in which to do so. But as easy as it may be to plant, plants in containers need more care than those in the garden. Container plants are like family pets: the more attention you give them, the better they behave. Proper watering of the plants in your containers is crucial to having full, lush and healthy plants, performing their very best. Once you get a little bit of experience, understanding when and how much to water becomes almost second nature. However, when first starting out, figuring out how to make those plants happy can be pure frustration. Even professionals may have trouble determining the exact water needs of a plant. One of the most common causes of houseplant death is watering mistakes. There is a good reason for this. First, watering is a discipline, that if you get off schedule, it can be disastrous for your plants due to stress from over or under watering.

Watering issues
In potted plants is of most concern, as they are in a captive habitat. Skipping a few watering, or adding a few extra, can cause real trouble. Even if you are totally consistent, the conditions inside your container are forever changing. Excellent potting media like composted peat moss and coconut fiber, for instance, like all organic materials, change over time, gradually decomposing and compacting down into smaller and smaller pieces. As the potting material compacts, the tiny capillaries throughout the container gradually shut down, so less water is carried to the root zone. From a plant’s point of view, this is like a slow strangling overtime. A plant that once thrived in a container will eventually succumb to lack of oxygen and water at the root zone, even if you are watering the exact same. Here is why the soil matters so much: as soil compacts, and the plant get less water, it will start to show signs of water distress, including drooping leaves and wilting. The obvious solution? Water more. Unfortunately, this is often the wrong approach. Instead of giving your plants more water, you might be drowning them.

Too much water
The most common cause of early death is generally considered to be over- watering. Very often people love their houseplants too much and very few plants can handle daily watering in a typical potting situation. We know plants need water, even cacti; the exact amount and frequency may seem like a mystery there is a fine line with many species of plants. Overwatering will cause container plants’ foliage to die off, have rotten roots and tubers, pests and mold issues. All these stress the plants and compromise their health. Potted plants that are too wet, may simply rot off at the crown or base. This is especially true if you have
saucers under the pots and let the water sit in the saucers. Few plants can handle their roots actually sitting in water for long and root rot is the inevitable result.

How to Avoid Over-watering
The old advice about waiting until the top inch of soil is dry is a pretty rule of thumb. In general, even moisture is the best option for many container plants. An obvious method is the use of a moisture meter. You also need to know your plant’s species and its watering requirements. A broad guide for plants is to keep the top few inches of soil moderately moist. When this area is dry, apply water deeply and then allow the soil to dry to the touch again, before adding more water. A low-tech solution is to get your fingers dirty. Push a finger into the soil up to the second knuckle or test the bottom of the container through a drainage hole. Never let the bottom of the container rest in a pool of water unless it is an aquatic plant, and even then, drain and refill the saucer frequently to prevent fungus and root rot.

Not enough water
Under-watering creates a hostile environment where plants can not intake nutrients and wither and die. This is mostly caused by neglect, so it is safe to assume that people who let their plants die from lack of watering really just do not care. If you go off to work in the morning without watering your potted plants, you are likely to come home to droopy, if not dead plants. When plants get too dry, their delicate feeder roots die and the plant must concentrate its energy on re-growing damaged roots rather than producing fruits and flowers.
If you have dried your pot down to the point that the plant is wilting it may take more than standard watering practices to get the plant hydrated again. If you water your plant and it seems like all of the water is running down between the sides of the pot and soil ball, you may need to take steps to rehydrate the soil. Fill a tub with water and soak your pot in the water until the soil has expanded and is no longer pulled away from the edge of the pot. Resume normal watering practice. If soaking your pot or a basket in a tub of water is impractical you can also rehydrate by watching repeatedly. To do this, water the plant liberally it will probably seem like most of the water is running around the soil rather than soaking into the soil. Wait 30 minutes to an hour and then water again, it should seem the more water is soaking into the soil

Wait another 30 minutes to an hour and water one last time, by the third watering the soil should be hydrated and taking up water like normal again. This method works because the first watering starts to moisten the soil surface even though not much water soaks in. The following watering then gets the water to penetrate the soil ball and moisten the entire basket. Waiting between each watering allows the water you have already added time to soak into the soil and helps to make the soil less water repellent.

Watering Innovations for Container Gardening
Water-holding crystals
Absorb and retain up to 200 times their weight in water. When blended into the soil, polymers can reduce your watering chores by 50 to 70 per cent. Potassium- based polymers, in time break down into fertilizer.

Self Watering Containers have an inner pot that holds the plant and soil, and an outer pot or bottom reservoir that holds water. A wick joins the two and pulls water up into the root ball as it is needed. Most reservoir are large enough to supply water for several days or more. Liquid fertilizer can be added to the reservoir to ensure adequate supply of nutrients. These containers can generally be used indoors and out.

Drip-Irrigation Systems are simple, easy to install and they take the work and worry out of watering. Add a timer and your plants will be content even if you can not be there to give them daily attention. If you do not use self-watering planters, or have a drip-irrigation system, you will probably need to check on your plants daily, and maybe even twice a day if the weather is really hot. If you have more than a few planters and especially if you travel, drip irrigation is a smart investment.

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