This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

July 13, 2013

Container gardening in the desert

Container gardening is a wonderful way to surround yourself with the beauty and joy of live plants. Unfortunately, here in the desert, many times it's just a view to a kill. The plants look great at the store, and all you get to do is to watch them slowly die. And sometimes not so slowly.

But it can be done successfully here in the desert. And your goal is to make things as easy as possible on these poor plants that have to live out there in the terrible heat. I've made a lot of mistakes here at the Tropical Paradise and had given up on having plants in containers, but I'm trying again. Here is what I have learned:

• Avoid ceramic pots. Yeah, the plastic ones aren't quite so elegant, but putting a plant in a ceramic pot here in the desert is the equivalent of putting it in the oven. The heat dries out the soil, and the roots. Get a plastic pot. And be sure to get the kind that has the little "plate" on the bottom to hold overflow. Water running out of the bottom of your pots looks terrible - and it's not so nice for your downstairs neighbors!

• Get a ridiculously-big container. The bigger the container, the more potting soil it will hold, the more distance the roots are from the edges, and the more it can hold water. I got the one that this canna is in from the son of a friend of mine. It's big!

• Add moisture-holding crystals. You can get these at Home Depot. They're just tiny pieces of polymer that expand to hold water. Just a tiny amount will do. Or you can just buy the Miracle Grow potting soil that already has that stuff in it. A small trick, but a huge difference!

• Water your plants. Have a useful, plastic, reasonably-sized watering can. Avoid the metal kinds that just look good sitting on a shelf at an antique store. And if it's too big, you won't use it, because water is heavy. Mine is about a half-gallon. No, you don't need a "rose head" on it, or anything like that. Get a cheap one. It's not decoration - it lives in the cabinet under my sink. No, don't get some sort of automatic watering system. If you aren't interested in going out there to water your plants at least every other day, container gardening isn't for you. May I suggest pet rocks?

• Feed your plants. I get the houseplant spikes at the Dollar Store. Every few months, I pop a few more in. I also use a liquid plant food every once in a while.

There you go. The old adage "dig a $100 hole for a $50 tree" really applies to container gardening. Do these things and people will accuse you of having a green thumb.
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