Grow For It!: Planting in containers

By From page B3 | January 06, 2014

Sue McDavidDo you love lots of colorful bloom and foliage but only have a small plot for gardening?

If that is the case, container gardening is the answer. So many different and colorful plants can be used that can easily be changed out for the different seasons.

However, first things first — what is put into the container for a growing medium will determine the success of your plantings.

Plants like good drainage, especially those in containers. If water pools around the roots too long, root rot will damage and possibly even kill the plant.

For years, gardeners have been covering the bottom of containers with gravel, pieces of broken pottery, styrofoam packing material and the like. Do not do this — nothing but a good potting mix should be put into a plant container and here is why:

Instead of water draining immediately through the soil, then into gravel or other material that may have been put into the bottom of a container, the water will completely saturate the soil above any other material in a container before moving on down; therefore, no air spaces will be left in the soil. This process could take a long time and in the interim, plant roots will be starved for oxygen.

For an example of how water drains through different materials, lay a rectangular-shaped sponge flat and saturate it with water. Time how long it takes for the excess water to drain out.

Now, turn the sponge 90 degrees so it is upright with the long side of the sponge perpendicular to the floor and again saturate it with water. Drainage will occur more quickly because the shape of a container has a lot to do with how much water it holds.

A shallow plant container filled with soil, like the flat sponge placed, will hold more water longer than a tall, narrow one, like the sponge turned upright.

When gravel or other material is added to the bottom, it effectively makes that container shallower; water will sit in the top material too long before draining through and the plant roots will be oxygen-deprived.

Fill plant containers all the way with potting mix, not garden soil which is too heavy for containers, and do not use gravel or any other material at the bottom. Healthier plants will be the result.

Master Gardeners are available to answer home gardening questions Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon by calling 530 621-5512. Walk-ins are welcome at the office, located at 311 Fair Lane in Placerville.

For more information about public education classes and activities, go to the Master Gardener’s Website at Sign up to receive online notices and e-newsletter at You can also find Master Gardener on Facebook.

Sue McDavid

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