Daylilies forum: growing daylilies in a container

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Name: Donald
Eastland county, Texas (Zone 8a)
Region: Texas Enjoys or suffers hot summers Raises cows Plant Identifier
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needrain
Oct 14, 2017 9:49 AM CST
I grow the daylilies in containers. It's a control issue. I got a deal on some used, nursery tree containers this year. It takes some creative maneuvering to move them, but I devised a method to do that. A bigger problem has been the drain holes are large and that has allowed a lot of soil to escape. Also, due to the size, I sort of used a hugelkultur method which involved a lot of things in the bottom which apparently decomposed a lot faster than I counted on. Now the poor plants have settled too much and the containers need dumping and the soil replenished.

But the biggest problem in my growing conditions using these really big containers has been soil shrinkage on the sides of the containers. Then the root balls get too dry and it's really difficult to get moisture back into the soil. Today on garden.org the article about growing citrus plants in containers has the following statement:

"Rewet dry citrus rootballs by placing a few drops of mild dishwashing soap directly onto the soil, then water with slightly warm water.'

I haven't tried that and I'm curious whether others growing daylilies in containers have tried that. Under my normally hot and dry conditions combined with daylilies penchant for appreciating lots of water, it's a problem I would like to solve. On my big cattle tubs where I drill the holes myself, I've taken to putting the drain holes up a couple of inches on the sides rather than in the bottom. That ends up creating a built in water reservoir in the bottom of the container and that method has clearly worked for the daylilies. It would probably be a death sentence for some plants, but daylilies here cope with sitting in water during the growing season. Those that have a mosquito castle to sit in clearly manage the hot summer months better than others.

So if that dishwashing detergent will help, I love to hear some people who have actually used it. How many are a 'few drops' - that sort of thing :).
Donald
Name: Ken
East S.F. Bay Area (Zone 9a)
Region: California
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CaliFlowers
Oct 14, 2017 11:35 AM CST
I've had the exact same problem here, and I've also drilled holes in the sides of containers to hold water. Depending on the heat, water quality and what's in the bottom of the container, things can get funky down there. I ended up going with big saucers, because I can tell how fast the plant is taking up water.

Another trick I've used is to cut water bottles to make 3" tall "cups" and set them in the bottom of containers with normal drainage holes.

It's hard to find real soap anymore, and the detergents in most cleansers are probably harmful to the soil, plants and soil organisms.

The alcohol-based surfactants are the most powerful, but are probably not that good for soil health, so I use CoCo-Wet and other horticultural wetting agents, one of which was a Yucca-based wetting agent that I can't remember the name of. They work fine, but I've heard that regular use of any wetting agent isn't recommended–the person said something about soil structure and water-uptake chemistry. Seems to me that daylilies get so much water run through them that a dose of wetting agent once a month shouldn't hurt anything.

I think the soil "shrinks" initially because of root contraction, and once a channel for water appears, soil can escape from the pot, the rootball dries more, and a viscious cycle begins.

Capping the soil mix with a thin layer of garden soil has worked very well for me, because mineral-based soil re-wets easily, resists channeling, and promotes slow, even percolation. It also works its way into the potting mix slowly, which seems to help all aspects of plant growth.

In extreme cases of dry rootball, I have to dunk the pot in a big bucket of water for a couple of hours to soak it all the way through. That's when the wetting agent really comes in handy. A good rinse-through afterward, and some liquid fertilizer, and they're good-to-go again.

Recently, I've had good luck using a bark-heavy mix. It seems to stay broken up better than bagged peat-based potting soils. Fine orchid bark, with particles around 3/16 - 1/4 works the best.

A good starting point is 5 parts bark, 1-2 parts potting mix, 1part perlite, plus some dolomitic lime. There's a lot of info about this mix online, search "5-1-1", "container" and "soil".
Name: Nikki
Yorkshire, UK (Zone 8a)
LA name-Maelstrom
Dog Lover Cat Lover Rabbit Keeper Container Gardener
Scatterbrain
Oct 14, 2017 12:04 PM CST
Hi Donald,

What you describe is a very old tip which has been around for a long time, as you have discovered when soil in containers gets very dry it cracks in the top and shrinks around the sides, any water you then add just washes straight off or straight through.

Using a few drops of washing up liquid (the stuff for washing dishes by hand NOT the detergent that goes in a dishwasher) helps to emulsify the soil (is that the right word?) so that the water can soak in again.

I haven't tried it personally as I live in an extremely wet area but I will look around on the British websites for more info for you.

Edited to add--

Hi Donald,

Just had a quick look around. Here they recommend adding the washing up liquid to the water (a couple of drops per average size watering can -around one gallon in UK) and watering it in.

Another thing which you can try is pack in sheets of newspaper between the soil and the container wall when it has shrunk away so that when you water the container the paper gets soaked and stays wet and this gradually rewets the soil so that it can be worked again.

Hope this helps.
[Last edited by Scatterbrain - Oct 14, 2017 12:20 PM (+)]
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Name: Donald
Eastland county, Texas (Zone 8a)
Region: Texas Enjoys or suffers hot summers Raises cows Plant Identifier
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needrain
Oct 14, 2017 8:15 PM CST
CaliFlowers said:
Another trick I've used is to cut water bottles to make 3" tall "cups" and set them in the bottom of containers with normal drainage holes.

--This is a great idea, Ken! I tend to have all kinds of plastic containers circulate through here that I can start cutting off - milk, coffee, orange juice - seems like a lot of things are in plastic containers that would work. Definitely something I can and will try.

It's hard to find real soap anymore, and the detergents in most cleansers are probably harmful to the soil, plants and soil organisms.

--I have some Murphy's that I've used to mix with water to spray plants. I wonder if that will work? It doesn't damage the plants if they are sprayed, so I wouldn't think it would hurt with a soil application. I'm just not exactly clear on how it's supposed to work by putting it on the soil. Maybe it would be more efficient to mix some in water to start out with and then water the container as usual afterwards.

The alcohol-based surfactants are the most powerful, but are probably not that good for soil health, so I use CoCo-Wet and other horticultural wetting agents, one of which was a Yucca-based wetting agent that I can't remember the name of. They work fine, but I've heard that regular use of any wetting agent isn't recommended–the person said something about soil structure and water-uptake chemistry. Seems to me that daylilies get so much water run through them that a dose of wetting agent once a month shouldn't hurt anything.

--Wetting agents always seem a bit high priced to me.

I think the soil "shrinks" initially because of root contraction, and once a channel for water appears, soil can escape from the pot, the rootball dries more, and a viscious cycle begins.

--Yep.

Capping the soil mix with a thin layer of garden soil has worked very well for me, because mineral-based soil re-wets easily, resists channeling, and promotes slow, even percolation. It also works its way into the potting mix slowly, which seems to help all aspects of plant growth.

-With my red clay, that might be more like capping it with concrete. Once it gets really dry, it repels water for a while. Using my yard soil has always led to trouble sooner or later. Usually sooner :(.

In extreme cases of dry rootball, I have to dunk the pot in a big bucket of water for a couple of hours to soak it all the way through. That's when the wetting agent really comes in handy. A good rinse-through afterward, and some liquid fertilizer, and they're good-to-go again.

--Dunking and setting containers in water is my 'go to' method on pots I can manage to lift. I even got a couple of cheap child swimming pools that have big pots sitting in them. The problem with those big pots is lifting them. When they are dry I could probably get them in, but once the soil is thoroughly wet I'd probably have to get help to lift them back. Manageable when I was younger maybe, but asking for trouble to try it now. I've still considered setting one or two in those kiddie pools, though, and then waiting 'til someone drops by that I can get to help me lift them out :).

Recently, I've had good luck using a bark-heavy mix. It seems to stay broken up better than bagged peat-based potting soils. Fine orchid bark, with particles around 3/16 - 1/4 works the best.

--I use bark in my mixes. Too expensive to only use potting mix for pots that large. That's why I put limbs, twigs, leaves and other organic material hugelkultur style to take up space. The plants don't object, but it didn't last through the season. I guess the organics just broke down too quickly and now I'm needing to replenish the volume. The daylilies do a good job filling even large containers with roots. For some reason clay pots don't have as much shrinkage as the plastic. I wonder if the clay, soil and roots tend to bond a bit where the plastic doesn't bond at all.

A good starting point is 5 parts bark, 1-2 parts potting mix, 1part perlite, plus some dolomitic lime. There's a lot of info about this mix online, search "5-1-1", "container" and "soil".

--Daylilies haven't proved to be all that picky about the mix. At least mine haven't. Mostly they grow well and I do try to give a bit of supplemental fertilizer from time to time to compensate for what gets used up and leeches out.



Donald
Name: Donald
Eastland county, Texas (Zone 8a)
Region: Texas Enjoys or suffers hot summers Raises cows Plant Identifier
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needrain
Oct 14, 2017 8:27 PM CST
@Scatterbrain Nikki,

I like the newspaper idea. Unfortunately in the days of the internet and living out in the country where they won't deliver a paper off the highway makes newspapers almost a thing of the past. A small weekly local paper - and expensive - that comes via mail is about all the paper that shows up here. I think I may stack up a few and try them, though. It certainly gets wet easily enough so it seems like it would keep the water running straight through. I have paper sacks that cattle feed comes in that I may try. It's cheap paper that also soaks up water easily. I use it under mulch to suppress weed growth for that reason. I wonder if cardboard boxes would work? They also tend to be absorbent and might even be easier to stuff in the containers to fill in the shrinkage. Both those decompose rapidly when I use them outside on the soil. Not sure how fast they would disappear in the containers. Worth trying. Thanks for the idea!
Donald
Name: Nikki
Yorkshire, UK (Zone 8a)
LA name-Maelstrom
Dog Lover Cat Lover Rabbit Keeper Container Gardener
Scatterbrain
Oct 15, 2017 7:52 AM CST
You're welcome, Donald,

Hope it helps! Smiling

Edited--forgot to say, as regards proper soap you might be better looking on etsy or similar for independent soapmakers as they still make soap as a craft or maybe look up soapmaking supplies/suppliers for the raw ingredients.
[Last edited by Scatterbrain - Oct 15, 2017 7:56 AM (+)]
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Name: Jimi
Jacksonville, FL (Zone 9a)
Daylilies
Jimiimijz
Oct 26, 2017 8:56 AM CST
I have most of mine potted up also and use a Hugelkultur approach to combat moisture loss. Take an oak log, about 2" smaller in diameter than the pot and short enough to leave planting room, and place it in the bottom. I then like to use larger pine bark mulch as a "filter" to keep the potting mix from washing out the drainage holes around the log. I don't think a few drops of Dawn or Joy will affect anything as a lot of people use them a "spreader sticker" when spraying chemicals.

lindaksirron
Jun 3, 2018 1:24 PM CST
Can I use a kiddy pool for a daylilie garden for my child's garden wanting flowers and veggies for a fun project for my grandkids I have 3 kid pools old but no cracks or holes they are blue and green. Also thought about putting black plastic pots in either the pools or my extra large pots plant daylilies in then put soil around them I could then use that area for planting seeds so the kids could see them come up I would also be watering often because of the seeds that would be where the plastic water cups could be used
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Region: Alabama
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Seedfork
Jun 3, 2018 3:08 PM CST
@lindaksirron
Yes, you can use a plastic pool with pots in it to grow daylilies. I assume you could do some vegetable that way, but you might have to research which ones would grow and not rot in that type of environment. I don't quite understand the part about adding soil around them or why you would be watering often with pots or cups sitting in a pool of water?
The idea of using the plastic pools with the pots in them I believe came about because it avoided the need for constant monitoring and frequent watering.
Also I believe I have read that the pots in the pool could even be left there in freezing weather? Sounds odd , but I believe that is correct.
So I can see in my mind a small plastic pool with daylilies growing in pots fill with dirt, but also other plastic pots filled with dirt that would be planted with seeds. They would be watered from the bottom by the low volume of water in the pool, and would not need to be watered from the top. For sure they should not need to be watered often, and probably not at all.
I am not sure just what water level is needed to do this, I would think only one or two inches. I guess that would depend on the pots and size of the cups used for the seeds.
Also I don't think this is recommended for a long period of time, merely as a temporary solution. I know I have read of daylilies being kept under these conditions for a few months.
Name: Dot or Dorothy Parker
Fort Worth TX (Zone 8a)
Lilies Pollen collector Container Gardener Butterflies Birds Plant and/or Seed Trader
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Ladylovingdove
Jun 4, 2018 6:58 AM CST
I don't know it this pertains to this post or not, but I'm 78 now and it is too hard to drag a hose around and water now. All my daylilies are in the big pots. For drainage I put the pot 1/3 full of big bark mulch on the bottoms ,then mix potting soil half and half with fine bark fines to plant in, then mulch on the tops. I made myself a daylily area with sprinklers on the corners. I paid someone to do this for me. The ground was lined with barrier with gravel on top. This has helped me be able to continue gardening at my age. Now all I have to do is go turn on the sprinklers to water my pots.Here are some pictures.

Dot/ Dorothy Parker
Thumb of 2018-06-04/Ladylovingdove/5c5c36
Thumb of 2018-06-04/Ladylovingdove/6a2ad9
Thumb of 2018-06-04/Ladylovingdove/d97b72

Name: Valerie
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Irises Roses Peonies Butterflies Birds
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touchofsky
Jun 4, 2018 7:13 AM CST
Looks great, Dot. The daylilies look very happy, too I tip my hat to you.
Name: Stan
Florida Panhandle (Defuniak Sp (Zone 8b)
Region: Florida Region: Gulf Coast Enjoys or suffers hot summers Daylilies Lilies Keeps Horses
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GaNinFl
Jun 5, 2018 5:17 AM CST
Thumbs up Thumbs up Dot, for a beautiful Daylily garden and for continued gardening success!
Stan
(Georgia Native in Florida)
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
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sooby
Jun 5, 2018 5:47 AM CST
Nice, Dot, but one hint you may find useful in future is that putting a coarse material in the base of a plant pot actually discourages drainage rather then improves it (if the material over the top is of finer texture). It's actually better for drainage to have the same texture of material throughout the pot.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Region: Alabama
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Seedfork
Jun 5, 2018 9:04 AM CST
I have read so many, many times that it is good to put coarse material in the bottom of a pot to help drainage, and recently I have been reading the opposite. I must say it just seems to make sense that coarse materials drain better, I can't seem to wrap my brain around how using coarse material hinders drainage. To me the new version may actually be stating to simply use coarse materials in your potted plants, and not finer materials on the top layer, if you are having any drainage problems.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
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sooby
Jun 5, 2018 9:14 AM CST
Larry, yes it is a difficult thing to wrap one's head around. Basically what happens is that water does not want to cross the junction between finer material and coarse material, so the flow of water comes to a stop when it gets to the coarse material. It won't cross that boundary until it is basically "forced" to do so when the top fine material becomes so saturated that it can't hold any more water.

This phenomenon is called a "perched water table". It's the principle used to build sand-based golf greens and was discovered over a hundred years ago but still we see coarse material recommended at the base of pots.

Years ago I was skeptical myself so I did a test using two equal sized pots,, one with coarse material at the bottom and one without. Then I poured a measured amount of water into the pots. It turned out to be true, the potting mix above the coarse material stayed wetter than the one that was the same material throughout the pot. So not only was it losing growing space, it was keeping the roots wetter.

You can see illustrations of another experiment on the Garden Professors' website to show what happens below. Instead of going down into the coarse material to start with, the water instead goes sideways until saturation forces it down:

http://gardenprofessors.com/co...
Name: Valerie
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Irises Roses Peonies Butterflies Birds
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touchofsky
Jun 5, 2018 9:20 AM CST
@sooby,
If you want to make a large terracotta planter lighter, what would you suggest?
I have been putting broken bits of styrofoam in the bottom, but maybe this isn't a good idea.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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sooby
Jun 5, 2018 9:33 AM CST
Valerie, it was styrofoam packing "peanuts" that I used in my experiment as the coarse material, so yes that would impede drainage. If it's been working for the plants that are in it, though, then you probably don't need to change anything. If it does have a drainage problem then I guess the only thing I can think of is to find the lightest potting mix you can to use throughout the pot, and/or perhaps mix it evenly with perlite throughout.
Name: Ken
East S.F. Bay Area (Zone 9a)
Region: California
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CaliFlowers
Jun 5, 2018 10:56 AM CST
sooby said:Basically what happens is that water does not want to cross the junction between finer material and coarse material, so the flow of water comes to a stop when it gets to the coarse material. It won't cross that boundary until it is basically "forced" to do so when the top fine material becomes so saturated that it can't hold any more water.

This phenomenon is called a "perched water table". It's the principle used to build sand-based golf greens and was discovered over a hundred years ago but still we see coarse material recommended at the base of pots.


I'm a believer in perched water table theory, but lately I've realized that most, if not all of the old-school advice regarding 'drainage material' recommended using pot shards, large stones, or gravel, which most definitely impede the flow of water. The perched water table experiments I've read were done with similar material.

If the coarse matter used in the bottom of the container is permeable and can wick water away, I think the perched water table principles don't really apply. Chunks of bark will absorb and wick water. Also, the finer bark and potting soil above will wash down between the chunks to a certain degree and provide more of a drainage path. This could be plant-specific, in that daylily roots will happily invade and thrive in the lower regions of a container full of bark. Daylilies are somewhat of an anomaly, in that they love a lot of water, and frequent irrigation/fertigation as long as there is plenty of percolation and air space in the root zone. Putting a section of log in the bottom of a container isn't the same thing.

I'm thinking that if the container is tall enough, (18" or taller?) some kind of filler might be desirable, conserving water by keeping the water table high enough. It should also conserve growing mix, which simply degrades into anaerobic muck in the bottom of a deep container.

Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
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plantmanager
Jun 5, 2018 11:04 AM CST
Your daylilies look really happy, Dot. You can make it even easier on yourself by putting an inexpensive water timer on your hose to the sprinklers. Then you won't even have to think about it or go turn it on.
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Name: Ken
East S.F. Bay Area (Zone 9a)
Region: California
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CaliFlowers
Jun 5, 2018 11:25 AM CST
touchofsky said:If you want to make a large terracotta planter lighter, what would you suggest?
I have been putting broken bits of styrofoam in the bottom, but maybe this isn't a good idea.


I use plastic water bottles, empty, with the caps on. If the container would be unstable for some reason, I fill the bottles with water. Two liter soda bottles would work for very large containers, like 15-25 gallon tree pots, or equivalent. I use plastic mesh designed to keep leaves out of rain gutters to cover the drainage holes, stand the bottles vertically, then fill around/between them with mix.

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