How to feed your soil in container gardening

Container gardening

Container gardening is very different from gardening on land, because growing plants in containers opens a whole new plethora of possibilities, as well as sets many limitations. One of those is mulching and feeding. Containers are generally small to medium-sized, and many people (me among them) tend to put a stone or piece of pottery over the hole in the bottom, so as to keep the soil from draining out. This works well for filtration purposes, but since the amount of soil stays the same in the pot, how do you feed it? Here’s what works for me.

Change the soil every 3 years

It is one of the golden rules of container gardening, to change the soil every 2-3 years. I make that 3, to reduce compacting, get rid of soil pests and diseases, and to put in fresh, nutrient-rich soil – without putting in more work than is necessary. Three years is a long time, so you can also change out your plants when you do this, or trim their roots. What I do is fill the pot halfway with compost/soil, and halfway with manure. This is mixed up, so shallow rooters aren’t rooting in manure alone – which would kill them.

Liquid fertilizer

Most types of plant food will need some time to break down and become available to your plants. So, depending on the decomposition state of the food you’ve provided, give your plants some liquid fertilizer for either the first year (if it’ll take a year to break down), or for the second and third years (if it’ll break down quickly). If you want to stay organic and not buy anything, you can simply use your own urine, urine from cattle or pets, or compost tea. These are very mild, so there’s no risk of hurting your plants.

Mulching the soil

This is in addition to the two points mentioned above, and strictly optional. If you have the material for it, or simply want to, you’re free to add a layer of mulch. This is much better than trying to swap out the soil for manure while a plant’s growing, as it won’t damage the plant’s roots. However, in areas with humid climate, mulch is a huge attractor for slugs, mold and pests, so only do this if you don’t have those problems. Also, make sure you don’t over-fill the pots, or cover the plant’s stem.

Following these two (or three) rules seems to keep my plants happy and lush, giving them a fresh lease on life every three years. I sometimes take cuttings while changing out the soil, so tired old plants are replaced. My plants could definitely use more sun, but well, you can’t have everything.

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