How to Avoid Drowning the Plants in Your Container Garden

Ensure proper drainage when filling your pots

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A container garden is any garden (containing plants, flowers, fruits, or vegetables), that uses pots or containers rather than planing in the ground. Proper drainage may not be exciting, but it is one of the keys to keeping your container garden plants from drowning. Learn some important watering tips.

Drainage Holes

There may be conflicting advice about how to keep your container garden plants from drowning. Some people say you don’t need drainage holes; just put rocks or packing peanuts at the bottom of your container. Plants in container gardens that don't have drainage holes often find themselves sitting in a soggy mess. Avoid very small drainage holes since they often get clogged. You want large drainage holes; an inch in diameter is a good place to start.

You can put drainage holes in almost anything by using a drill with the proper bit or a hammer and large nail. Put in as many holes as possible. It’s okay if the bottom of your container begins to look like Swiss cheese. The more holes, the better.

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Cover the Holes

Now that you have holes, you'll want to cover them so your soil won’t leach out. There are several ways to do this. The tricky part is to cover the holes without completely blocking them; you want to keep the soil in while letting water out. There are several options here:

  • Plastic window screening: You can buy big rolls of plastic window screening for very little and cut pieces to fit the bottom of your pots. This is a cheap and easy way to cover your drainage holes, letting water out and keeping soil in.
  • Packing peanuts: A lot of people use packing peanuts in the bottom of their pots. They are cheap and do work, but there are some disadvantages:
    • They can make a mess. When you pour them into your pot, they have a tendency to get stuck to your hands
    • Some packing peanuts are now made of potato starch (to avoid the environmental impact of styrofoam) and you can’t put them in your containers because when wet, they melt into a slushy soup.
    • If you do use styrofoam peanuts, it is a good idea to put a barrier, like plastic window screening, between the soil and the peanuts. If you don’t, the soil and peanuts mix and at the end of the season, when empty out your pot, you either have to pick out the peanuts or throw all the potting soil in the garbage.
  • Coco fiber, moss, or burlap: These all make great pot liners, particularly for wire or hanging baskets. They keep soil in and help keep it moist. These liners can also be used to turn almost anything into a container.
  • Rocks: There is a pervasive myth that putting gravel in the bottom of containers helps drainage. It doesn't; it actually encourages the soil to soak up water and stay wet. Avoid gravel.
  • Better than Rocks: You can also buy a product called Better Than Rocks, which you put over the drainage holes in the bottom of your pot or window box. It’s made of recycled plastic and you can use it repeatedly. The advantage of this product is that it’s not only great for drainage, but it helps the air circulation in your container.
  • Ups-a-Daisy planter inserts: These clever plastic discs come in many sizes and fit into most round planters creating a false bottom with large drainage holes. It's probably best to use them only with very large pots that you don't need to fill with soil.

Once you've created and covered the holes, proceed with providing your plants with the proper amount of water, knowing any excess will drain correctly.