Or how to keep your baskets and containers from dying from lack of water.
If there is one thing we as animals share with almost all plants it’s the need for hydration. In short we need water to carry on life. Our bodies contain a large amount of water that is used for everything from cooling to waste removal. In a similar fashion plants rely on water too. Most of the plant nutrients are carried from the roots to the tops of the plants with water. So it pays to know proper watering of container plants.

There are some plants such as indoor jade plants and cacti that do well with only a very small amount of water, but most ornamental perennials and annuals need more, especially those kept in containers or window boxes. The limited space in pots and containers allows only a finite amount of water, assuming that the container has drainage holes.

Just as the plants need water, too much water can kill plants. The roots become drowned and can not breath. Drainage holes keep the containers from being waterlogged. In addition to drainage holes most containers should have some type of open drainage material such as crush stone or pea gravel. Some gardens use pieces of broken pottery to supply a drainage zone in the bottom of the pot.

The type of soil is also important. For example a heavy clay soil dug from the back yard might seem like a cheap alternative to expensive potting soil. The problem comes from the fact that heavy soil will not allow the water to migrate thorough out the container. Likewise the roots will not be able to breathe as well and the plants will suffer. Not to mention the trouble with weeds and plant pests that accompany the garden soil.

If buying potting mix is out of the question, a good option is to use compost mixed with garden soil, or good compost alone. This will supply nutrients and help the roots stay in good condition.
There are some commercial additives that are thought to help keep plants watered through times of drought. These are classified as hydrogels. Hydrogels are usually small granules that appear much like quartz crystals when dry and can absorb many times their mass in water. It has been thought that the hydrogels would hold water when wet and then give off moisture to the soil as the soil dries.

Having purchased plants that were potted with hydrogels we were dubious. In many cases, when re potting plants that were potted with hydrogels, we found the soil to be very dry while the little gels were not. If they were squeezed between a finger and thumb they yielded no water what so ever. As a matter of fact the University of Minnesota did a study on hydrogels and water availability which showed that plants potted with hydrogel did no better with those potted without them.

One of the biggest problems with watering container gardens is the varying needs of different plants.
There are some products that may aid in even watering. Wetting agents can help the water reach every part of a container. This is important because the roots will grow where they find water.
The greatest challenge in watering containers is making sure the plants do not completely dry out between watering. It is probably not a problem to let plants become a bit dry between watering but the soil should not be allowed to become bone dry.

If the container becomes bone dry the soil should be deep watered to re-hydrate the roots. Water will pour through very dry soil so it becomes necessary to do several deep watering’s to be sure the whole container is wet.

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