The Pot Spot: Good Dirt, Low Down

Container Gardening Essentials

| October/November 2003

One of the most appealing aspects of growing herbs in containers is the gardener’s sense of control. A plant growing in the ground can be subject to high winds, conquering hordes of hungry insects, competition from rampant weeds, trampling by wayward dogs and kids, and all manner of surprise and catastrophe. With pots, one has the ability to provide plants with ideal conditions, at least in some respects.

An obvious advantages of pots over plots is that a ground-bound plant is subject to the limitations of the dirt in any particular region, whether it’s water-clogged heavy clay or sandy soil that drains so freely that it can’t retain the nutrients the plants need.

Dirt is the nuts and bolts of gardening, a basic ingredient that can determine the success, or death, of a plant. Let’s explore the container gardener’s options.

The first rule is, don’t be tempted to just scoop up some soil from the ground for potting an herb, even if it’s good soil. Use a potting mix, whether you buy a bag from the corner discount store or mix your own.

A plant in a pot has needs that are sometimes quite different from those of a garden plant, and you must start with an adequate growing medium. Topsoil or garden loam is the basis for most potting mixes, but other components, both organic and inorganic, are important for optimum plant growth in a container.

A good potting soil provides more than dirt. It should have two seemingly contradictory characteristics: It must drain freely, and at the same time it must be able to retain water. It must find a middle ground between brick-like heavy clay and sand so light that everything washes out.

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