By Phyllis Galowitz”How should I clean a clay pot to reuse it after a diseased plant had been in it?” a reader asked.
Wash it thoroughly with warm soapy water and a stiff brush. Sterilize it by placing in a warm oven, 170-180°for a few minutes, which will kill any bacteria that may be lodged in it. Ceramic or plastic pots can also be sterilized with a simple solution of 5 gallons of warm water to 1/2 a gallon of chlorine bleach. Allow them to soak in the solution for about 15 minutes and then rinse in clear water and dry. The bleach solution can be saved and reused. Sterilizing previously used pots, as opposed to simply washing them, is a good idea. This extra precaution will prevent damage to delicate seedlings. Soil mixtures should be sterile, for the same reason. To sterilize soil, place it in a roasting bag and heat in a microwave oven at full power or in a conventional oven for ten minutes at 350°.
Container gardening, whether indoors on windowsills, or outdoors on the deck or roof garden, is attractive and can be arranged and rearranged to enhance a doorway, a blank wall, a view, or just for convenience. I especially like growing herbs in containers on my deck near the kitchen door. The scents are wonderful, and being able to clip a bit of rosemary, parsley, or basil, to season what I’m preparing for dinner is both fun and inspiring.
Pots of flowers can be rotated to allow others to take their place when the blooms are past their prime. Containers can be planted with small, slow growing shrubs or dwarf fruit trees. Placing a pot on an inverted container can give it the height it might need to allow for trailing leaves or blooms, like lobelia or ivy geranium, to fall gracefully. Forming a teepee with bamboo sticks placed in a pot will give a climbing plant, like snow peas or cherry tomatoes, something to hold onto.
Special care is needed when growing plants in containers. They must be watered and fertilized frequently. Being away, even after a long weekend, can be a disaster, unless you are lucky enough to have a good neighbor who you can depend on to water them. Filling a large pot with soil is expensive. I use the styrofoam pellets that come in large packages to partially fill the container, before filling with potting mix, but test them first. Some are made of a material that will disintegrate when wet. The foam will hold water and aerate the soil. Water retaining granules are also good to incorporate into soil. Soil-less mixtures, like vermiculite, are less expensive than soil mixtures and are good for short term use, such as growing seedlings, annuals and sowing large seeds, but are not suitable for long-term plantings, such as trees or shrubs.
Collecting containers for planting or for ornaments can be fun and add a creative touch to your garden. Look for unusual tubs or pots at lawn sales. Just make sure they have drainage holes in them before planting, and place a few rocks or bricks underneath to allow air to circulate and water to drain away.
Now that bear season is here, I’m replacing the bird feeders with hanging plants. I’ll miss watching the birds at the feeders, but hopefully they’ll find enough to eat throughout the garden, and keep the insect population down.
Thank you reader, for asking, which led to the topic for this column. Please send other questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org and enjoy your garden!~