Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2005
Regional Report

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This wall container takes advantage of the shade provided by a tree's heavy canopy.

Container Gardens

Container gardening is all the rage these days as both available gardening space and free time seem to be shrinking. No matter how busy you are or how limited your yard, a beautiful container situated near the front door or back patio will bring soothing nature up close and personal.

Soil Mixes
Excellent drainage is the most important attribute of a good soil mix. Roots will rot if they sit in overly wet soil for extended periods. Don't dig up soil from the landscape for your pots. It doesn't have good drainage and it's also too heavy. Purchase a good-quality potting mix that contains some perlite, pumice, or vermiculite. These materials help provide air space between the soil particles to promote good drainage.

Pumice is sometimes harder to find, but it is the best choice. Pumice is a volcanic material that absorbs water and releases it slowly, helping to maintain a more consistent moisture in the container. Pumice is preferable to perlite because perlite is extremely lightweight and tends to wash away with repeated watering. Nor does perlite absorb water. To make your own lightweight mix, use one-third each of good-quality potting mix, shredded peat moss, and pumice (or perlite).

Sun Exposure
As we head into the summer months in the low desert, note that soil temperatures in containers can heat up like an oven if they are in full sun. Select plants appropriately for the amount of sun the container will receive. If planting vegetables and annual flowers, situate the container in morning sun with protection from intense afternoon sun. Containers do well sequestered in the filtered light of a tree canopy. If you only have full sun, plant cacti, succulents, or desert-adapted plants that can take it.

Tricks to Beat the Heat
"Double pot" by placing the planted container inside a larger pot. Fill the space in between with crumpled newspaper or styrofoam peanuts to act as a layer of insulation. Another trick is to "collar" the container by wrapping thin cardboard around it. The sun's rays strike the cardboard, eliminating some of the heat on the pot.

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