Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2005
Regional Report

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Pots both enhance and limit plant growth, so choose the pot to match the mature size of the rootball.

Container Gardening

Container gardens can begin with just about any container -- an old wheelbarrow, bathtub, bird cage, "distinguished-looking" shoe, child's wagon, or even just a camouflaged bag of potting mix. If it'll hold soil or potting mix and a plant, it's fair game. Mounds or cascades of color can come from begonias, petunias, ivy, geraniums, campanula, impatiens, succulents, fuchsias, azaleas, or vegetables like patio or cherry tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, squash, and herbs.

Picking a pot can be a challenge, with all the choices out there. If you've decided on a terra cotta pot, be aware that there are "high-fire" or "low-fire" types. These terms indicate how long a pot or statue will last before it disintegrates. It's worth finding out whether the piece you want to buy is high-fire or low-fire, since low-fire pots will last only from one to four years, depending on how wet the soil in them is kept. In low-fire pots, the water seeps into the clay and "unglues" its particles, and the pot literally falls apart. High-fire clay pots and figures will show salts from minerals in the water, but they don't break down anywhere near as fast as low-fire ware.

Several clues tell you immediately whether a piece is high-fire or low-fire:

Garish glaze colors. Low-fire ware frequently is brilliantly colored. Much folk art pottery is of this type. More muted color shades and less adventuresome shapes are generally indicative of high-fire work.

Ring of the clay. When tapped with a fingernail, the high-fire piece has a higher-pitched ring due to both the higher-temperature firing and the finer-texture clay. Low-fire pieces emit more of a dull clunk.

Expense. High-fire ware is more expensive; low fire is relatively inexpensive.

Many low-fire pots are very attractive, and it would be a shame not to purchase one just because it's low-fire. There is a simple solution. Pot the plant in a separate container (with a drainage hole) that fits inside the low-fire one. Make sure that there's also space at the base for a drip pan under the plant's inner pot. To camouflage the pot-in-a-pot look, layer sphagnum moss (the full strands, not the shredded, milled kind) on top of the soil surface, covering the entire area from the plant stem to the container's edge.

The finest high-fire ware comes from Italy, the next best from California, and then the Dominican Republic. Most of the low-fire pieces come from Guadalajara, Mexico.

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