Posted on Mar 01, 2017 | by Kerry K
In the last decade, container gardening has gained tremendously in popularity. And why not? Container gardens are perfect for those with restricted space or difficult planting conditions, and bring color and life to both indoor and outdoor areas. Containers can accommodate whatever the gardener wants to grow--annuals, vegetables, perennials or house plants, and new innovations make them easier to manage than ever. These days, cleverly designed self-watering planters eliminate the uncertainties inherent in the watering process, and do it with style.
Think back to your grandmother's house--do you remember colorful porch pots brimming with impatiens or petunias and sweet potato vine? Boldly planted containers of cannas or elephant ears on the patio? Large tubs of cherry tomatoes or sweet peppers flourishing on a balcony? Probably not.
Back then, the impatiens or petunias would more likely be found encircling a tree, the cannas along a back fence (although they were more likely hollyhocks), and the vegetables in their requisite rows in their own garden in the farthest part of the back yard. How much gardening has changed! Today, container gardens are as much a part of outdoor decor as a bird bath or statuary, and as valuable to the curb appeal of a home as foundation plantings. And for so many urban gardeners, they are an essential element in their quest for healthy, home-grown fruits and vegetables. Attractive, flexible, and easily accessible--it's no wonder container plantings seem destined to be a trend that's here to stay.
Once a container has been designed and planted, some folks feel the most difficult row to hoe is still ahead of them: how often to water? Unfortunately, there's rarely a simple answer to that question! The type, size, & location of the planter will all affect the water requirements, as will the size and type of plants in the container. Unglazed terracotta dries out faster than glazed or ceramic pottery, which dries out faster than plastic. Large pots dry out more slowly than smaller pots. Plantings located in sunny or windy areas will require more water than those placed in shady or protected spots. Containers planted very full or with more mature plants will need more frequent watering than ones with fewer or smaller plants. And as plants grow and roots fill the container later in the season, there will be less soil to absorb water, therefore watering more often may be necessary. Notice that no mention has been made of the type of soil--purposely, because only a high quality potting mix should be used. Usually peat-based with varying amounts of perlite or vermiculite, these "soil-less" mixes are ideal for containers, as they have good water-holding capacity and excellent drainage. One caveat--if these mixes become too dry they will shrink up like a sponge, and water will simply roll off and not be absorbed. If this should occur,the entire pot should be soaked in a tub of water until soil ball has re-expanded. Larger pots that cannot be soaked will need to be watered slowly many times to re-wet the soil.
So, all that sound like too much trouble? If so, fear not! Self-watering planters may be for you. Of the many on the market now, one of the best is from Crescent Garden. Their new planters feature patented "TruDrop" technology, which makes watering truly effortless and worry-free. Many other self-watering planters have multiple parts--planting inserts, separate water level indicators, fill tubes, etc. Crescent offers a thoughtfully designed, convenient one-piece planter. These containers have massive water reservoirs which may mean refilling only once every 2 to 6 weeks.
The water level indicator is easy to read, and flush with the planter rim so there's nothing to break off or distract from the beauty of your garden. They're easy to fill and easy to drain at the end of the season. For indoor use, there's a plug for the overflow drain. The sturdy double-walled rotational molded plastic is food-safe and 100% recyclable, and comes with a 10-year limited warranty against cracking or fading. In a range of neutral colors with a textured finish, they are as attractive as they are sturdy--unusual for self-watering containers of this size.
Your vegetable garden never looked so good!
It's amazingly easy to get your TruDrop planters growing, too. Simply remove the red overflow drain plug if using outdoors, fill the wicking area with soil and tamp gently, then plant as you would any other container, adding a time-release fertilizer. When you're finished, water the plants thoroughly from the top for this first time ONLY. Then fill the water reservoir through the intake hole until the water indicator reads full. That's it, you're done! If it rains, no worries--the excess water will drain through the overflow, so your planter can never be over-watered. Just check the water level indicator on your containers once a week, and fill whenever it reads empty.
By far the best aspect of the TruDrop is the capillary watering system. Developed with one of the largest growers in the country, these planters allow you to water the way the professionals do--from below. Overhead watering is terribly inefficient, wasting water and fertilizer. Using TruDrop requires up to 50% less water use, and eliminates fertilizer run-off entirely--better for you and the environment. Sub-irrigation is better for plants, too, keeping foliage dry and thus reducing foliar disease and damaged flowers. It also encourages a deeper root system compared to top watering, which can result in shallow surface roots.
The double walled planter also insulates roots from sun and extreme temperatures better than single walled containers. Sounds like a win-win-win--for you, the environment, and your plants.
What can I grow in a self-watering planter? What shouldn't I grow?
Best results will be obtained with plants that prefer an evenly moist soil, such as:most annuals
- outdoor tropicals
- many perennials
- some houseplants
You may see notably improved performance with the following plants that do NOT like drying out:
- pansies & primrose
- impatiens, torenia, coleus, & lobelia
- bananas, cannas, & hibiscus
- mint & basil
- hostas, ferns, & grasses
- peace lily
Self-watering planters may help prevent your container-grown tomatoes from developing blossom end rot - a calcium deficiency that is often the result of uneven and irregular watering.
Plants that prefer to dry out between waterings, like many succulents, perennial herbs, and certain house plants, may not be suitable for some self-watering containers, depending on siting and temperature.