Taking care of potted plants in the summer can bring color and life to new places. Many people like to put pots on their front porch and patios. These pots bring a great deal of enjoyment and can be very easy to take care of if you plan ahead.
One of the most important things is to only use “Potting Soil” in pots, never add topsoil or soil from your garden. Pots have a drastically different environment and potting soil helps adapt to the challenges. Plastic pots have come a long way in the past 10-20 years. They now can be as ornamental as clay pots and still have the water conserving attributes that are so helpful. Most summer potted annuals can dry out too fast when using clay pots. This is because the soil is exposed to drying air and sun on many sides, not just the top. If you are using a clay pot you can always line it with a plastic garbage bag that you have cut holes in for drainage. Another trick is to line the inside of the clay pot with plastic wrap or something that blocks the moisture.
When watering plants in pots remember that most of the time the water runs out long before it is absorbed into the soil. The easiest way to check is to poke your finger into the soil and roots. If the water has soaked into the soil it will be cool and soft to the touch. Dry soil feels hot and crumbly. To help pots absorb water you can use a couple of secret gardening tricks. If the pot is small enough you can soak it in a bucket of water for about 20 minutes. If not, you can put warm water in your watering can then add about 3 drops of dish soap per gallon. This will help the soil absorb the water by breaking down the (fancy word time) hydrophobic properties of dried peat-based soils and lowering the surface tension of the water. Once your plants are wet all throughout the soil make sure that water runs out of the holes in the bottom. This stops the fertilizer and hard water salts from accumulating in the soil.
Most annuals and potted plants do best with a different fertilization schedule that suggested on the boxes of fertilizers. If your fertilizer box that you use for your pots says “1 tablespoon per gallon of water every 7-14 days,” try changing to 1 teaspoon per gallon every time you water the pots. A constant steady low concentration of fertilizer is called spoon feeding and makes the potted plants healthier and grow more evenly.
About the Author • Corey Zak, CPRP
Corey Zak is the Palatine Park District’s Horticulture Manager. Cory has won awards for his designs and work. In recent years he has worked on making Palatine Park District landscape practices more pollinator friendly and helping to introduce plants to the public that are beneficial to pollinators as well as having ornamental qualities.