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How to Prepare Containers for Planting

Need to learn how to prepare containers for planting?

Properly readying containers for plants that will thrive takes a little more work than just dumping in potting soil and plugging in the plants.

Water the Soil & Let Drain Before Planting in Containers

Begin by filling your pots with a quality potting soil mixture.

Do not put rocks, Styrofoam or other materials in the bottom of the container to “improve drainage”. Doing this will do this just the opposite.

Do not fill the container with soil shoveled out of the garden beds. More likely than not, this material will be too dense for container growing.

Once the containers are filled with soil, water them thoroughly. Use a slow, steady stream of water. Depending on how dry the potting soil is, you may need to water a few times to completely wet the potting soil. Using slightly warmer water will often saturate the soil more rapidly than very cold water. (I often run my hose into the a sunny spot. Run it briefly to fill the hose and then let that water in the hose sit in the sun while I fill the pots with soil. That way the first water is warm. Or, I fill my watering cans from my rain barrels and set them in the greenhouse to warm up a bit while I fill the pots with soil.)

Do not lightly wet the soil. This won’t get your soil moist enough deeper into the pot where the roots will grow.

Do not squirt a harsh stream of water into the pot. This will just make a big mess and not saturate the soil.

Large Containers May Need to Be Filled in Place

Once the soil is completely saturated, allow the containers to rest and drain so that the mixture isn’t gloppy. The goal is to create a moist, well-drained environment in which to plant.

To reduce waste, I fill my smaller pots with soil on our tiny lawn and then wet them there. This way the run-off from the pots also waters the grass, plus extra nutrients that run out from the potting soil head into the lawn’s soil. (With very large, heavy containers, this method isn’t always practical.)

Once your pots are filled with moist but drained potting soil, you’re ready to begin filling them with your plants. If your potting soil isn’t amended with a fertilizer already, consider adding a bit of non-synthetic fertilizer or vermicompost right after planting. And always be sure to water the containers right after you have filled them with plants. This helps their roots make critical contact with the soil and begin their new life in this new, hospitable home. (I usually move the containers to their final destination before I do this final watering. This way, I’m not slogging dripping pots all over the garden.)

11 comments on “ How to Prepare Containers for Planting ”

Good basic tips and a timely reminder for new gardeners bit by the gardening bug and spring fever!

Terry thanks for letting us know that the container article was useful for you. Enjoy & keep having fun in the garden!

If you are reusing containers from previous years do you empty and use detergent to clean them out before filling with soil again?

There are many recommendations on sterilizing pots for re-use. That being said, I’ve worked in propagation greenhouses that don’t bother. As for using detergent, we’ve never seen a soap product suggested as such.

Should the pot have a hole in the bottom for drainage?

Susan, Yes. Planted pots should always drain.

Other websites suggest setting a layer in the bottom
Of planter, but you opposed it. Who should I follow as I am in dither now.

A layer of stone pebbles be set for better drainage as well as circulation of the air in the bottom of the planter.

Stones in the bottom is not an ideal solution. Yes, others may suggest it, however we do not. Layers of dissimilar materials can create an interface situation, reducing air and water flow.

How did you go from not knowing what to do in your prior response 4 minutes prior to this one to making this statement? Perhaps you’re actually a spam-bot? Or, are you real. Do tell. Please.

Want to learn how to prepare containers for planting? Preparing them right makes all the difference in whether your plants survive and thrive. Details:

How to Prepare Terra Cotta Pots for Planting

Related Articles

Using terra-cotta pots indoors or outdoors add warmth to any garden. They also carry the advantage of “breathing,” which prevents water from being trapped in the pots, which can cause roots to rot. On the other hand, terra cotta pots absorb water, and this wicking action makes soil dry out more quickly than it does in garden beds or in other pot mediums. Prepare terra-cotta pots carefully before planting to reduce risk of plant disease and to make them as receptive as possible to nurturing your prized herbs, flowers, vegetables and even small trees and shrubs.

Because terra cotta pots are so fragile, think about support structures before, rather than after, you sow seeds or plant seedlings in your containers. If your plant requires a cage, trellis or stake for support, insert these structures into the container first, then hold them while you fill the container with potting soil.

Things You Will Need

Plastic bin or large sink

Mild dish detergent

Plain yogurt (optional)

Paint brush (optional)

Container feet or bricks

Gravel, screening or broken pottery

Polystyrene peanuts (optional)

Garden hose or watering can

Plants or seeds

Soak and wash the terra cotta pots

Scrub the interior and exterior of previously-used pots with a wire brush to remove dirt and debris. Soak the pot in warm, soapy water overnight. A capful of bleach in the soapy solution helps reduce the chance of spreading plant disease. The Gardening Channel explains that bleach eventually erodes terra cotta, so don’t use more bleach than you need.

Don’t wash the exterior of your pot if you like an antique look. Instead, use a wire brush to remove debris, then paint plain yogurt over the outside to encourage moss to colonize and “weather” the terra cotta.

Rinse and clean the pots

The next day, rinse the pots clean of soap, bleach and any remaining dirt.

Soak the terra cotta again

Terra cotta pots absorb water, so they need to be soaked before the soil and plants go in them in order to reduce them wicking moisture away from the soil. Soak the pot again if you don’t plant immediately after cleaning.

Position the pots

Position your pot or pots in the general area where you plan to set them. Pots are harder to move once they are filled with soil and plants. Mixed groupings of pots add visual interest to a collection of plants.

Set terra cotta on “feet”

Set your pot on clay “feet” or bricks. This step allows air circulation under the pot, preventing roots from sitting in water when the drainage hole is blocked. If you plan to move the pot around, invest in casters so the pot can be wheeled with little effort.

Cover the drainage hole

Place gravel, broken pottery or screening over the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot so that soil doesn’t wash away after watering.

Reduce weight in the planting pots

Place polystyrene packing peanuts in the bottom third of the pot. HGTV says that an empty gallon milk jug can be placed on its side in the bottom of the pot. This step saves you money on potting soil and lightens the weight of the pot. Skip this method if you plant deep-rooted perennials that need the entire depth of the pot to spread their root systems.

Add your potting soil

Fill the container with potting soil up to within 1/2 inch of the rim.

Water generously

Deeply soak the potting soil to prepare for planting with a garden hose set to a gentle trickle. The soil should be moist to a depth of at least 1 inch after this pre-plant soaking. Check under the terra-cotta container to ensure that some water is draining away but that too much soil isn’t escaping the bottom of the pot as well.

Ohio Tropics says that one potential disadvantage to using terra cotta is that you must water plants in terra-cotta pots more frequently than you would in-ground plants, or even those in other kinds of pots. Terra cotta dries out more quickly than other mediums.

After establishing plants in the container, mulch the soil to help retain water. Use gravel, pine needles, wood chips or cocoa hulls. Terra cotta is vulnerable to wind, heavy rain and other weather extremes. Store empty containers indoors between growing seasons.

How to Prepare Terra Cotta Pots for Planting. Terra-cotta containers add warmth to both indoor and outdoor gardens. They also carry the advantage of "breathing," which prevents water from being trapped in the pots, which can cause roots to rot. On the other hand, this quick wicking action makes soil dry out …