We live in the country as you already know but there are times when we want to do some container gardening. For example, like when we want to plant a new variety of mint. Mint is among the most persistent and pernicious garden plants in the known universe. Once mint gets a foothold in the ground, it invades everything else, sometimes even choking out those prized ornamentals. (Hence the contention that it is pernicious. But that’s another rant all together.)
Other times you just want to get a plant into a large enough container that it has room to grow or winter over before the place you have chosen for it is ready to go. But putting plants in large containers can be a problem, can’t it? Even if you use a resin or other light weight pot, by the time you drop two cubic feet of potting soil in it, the pot weighs a ton. Especially if you live in the city and want to do container gardening, mobility might be important whether it’s to protect them in colder months, or to prevent sunburn. Or maybe you’re like us and just like to shift things around from time to time.
Whatever your reason, you need to know something about most plants (herbs, flowers, veggies like cucumbers, zucchini, etc – really pretty much anything other than shrubs and trees.) They only need between 8 and 12 inches of soil to thrive. So, why fill a 20 inch deep pot with potting soil, right? It’s heavy and it’s expensive. Once you use that much dirt, then you need one of those rolling plant stands which are either very expensive or very cheesy. So how do you beat the problem? Easy, Styrofoam.
That’s right, Styrofoam. That clunky, bulky, packing material that no one wants to recycle. I don’t know about your waste collector but ours says that Styrofoam is non-recyclable and should be treated as trash. In other words, it ends up in a land fill where it doesn’t decompose. We don’t want to get into the ‘environmental effects’ debate, we just want to focus on the fact that you’re chucking away something that does not go away.
Whether you use the packing peanuts or big chunks you can layer the bottom of you large plant containers to save money, reduce weight and improve drainage. Drainage is key to plant health. It reduces disease, allows oxygenation and prevents plants from drowning. A quick note here. If you use packing peanuts, consider putting them into one of those net bags that potatoes or onions come in. If you decide to retask your pot later, or change out the soil, it’ll be a lot easier if you aren’t chasing Styrofoam bits about the patio. Here’s a simple pictorial primer on how to use Styrofoam to lighten your containers, help reduce landfill waste, and get better drainage for your plants.
This project is for a honeysuckle that has been languishing in a pot. It needs somewhere to survive the winter until we get the ground prepared for the new woodshed, which it will adorn.
Step 1: The pot
This is a hulking great ceramic pot from Costco that has been home to bamboo, Japanese Maples, and now honeysuckle. It’s already heavy and we don’t need to fill it with 2 cubic feet of soil.
Step 2: Line the bottom with chunks of Styrofoam packing
Be sure make your base relatively as level and fill in as many gaps as you can. Remember, you’re putting dirt and a plant atop this base so it needs to be firm. The formula is: make your Styrofoam layer deep enough that you have room for 2 – 3 inches of soil atop it and another inch left at the top for topdressing.
Step 3: Weed fabric
After your packing is in the pot, cover the top of the Styrofoam with weed fabric. We suggest using this because it lets water through and will not decompose like paper, cardboard, etc. You want your plant on a relatively permanent base. There’s nothing worse than having your lovely container emulate a Florida sinkhole one day.
Step 4: Start with the dirt
Put in a layer of dirt, potting soil, whatever, that will raise your plants up to within an inch of the lip. Remember, this should usually be about 2 or 3 inches deep to permit root growth. The inch at the top ensures that you have adequate room for watering.
Step 5: Setting the plant
Set your plant or plants on the base layer of soil. Once you have them arranged begin filling between them. Remember, plants grow so don’t overcrowd them to begin with. Leave room for them to fill in and take on that lush, tangled look by themselves.
Step 6: Topdressing or mulch
Once you have back filled, we strongly urge you to top-dress the soil with some form of mulch. This prevents weed growth, aids in moisture retention, and basically finishes off the look of you work.
The finished product
Here is our newly container planted honeysuckle next to a pot of oregano, thyme, and rosemary (again with a Styrofoam base in it). All told, it probably took somewhere around 40 minutes to complete, and that includes moving that monster of a pot.
Enjoy container gardening. It’s great for growing fresh herbs and beautiful flowers and it’s a whole lot less likely to wrench your back out if you reuse your Styrofoam packing as a base in your larger pots.