Container Gardening: Drainage-Water-Nutrition

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Have you ever visited one of those garden centers where the place is beautifully landscaped and you see flowers, foliage and beauty everywhere you look?

Wonder how they do it? Well for one, they have more than one (or two) people working in the beds. And thing is, they are probably using better soil than you. They’re probably using a proprietary blend on their potting mix, as well as the right fertilizer for each plant.


For most of us… we tend to use what we can pick up at the local big store (that is unless we have a compost pile and maybe some barnyard litter…)

In nature when the trees shed leaves they remain on the ground. The leaves provide mulch and as they decompose they add nutrients back to the soil.

To try to recreate the perfect environment at home (which of course won’t be as good as Mother Nature but we can attempt to emulate her) you need three basic things.

Drainage, water retention, and nutrition.

Drainage keeps the roots from sitting in water. Sitting in water can cause the roots to rot. You need water retention capabilities so that the soil doesn’t dry out too fast causing you to need to water more often.You need nutrients since the environment is simulated. You need to feed the soil.

Let’s look at what I can get for each of these locally.


My choices are limited to bags of stones ranging from lava rock to river rock. Those with heavy clay soils will want to look into bags of gypsum. Gypsum can help your clay soil become more porous. Perite can be used as a mixture in your potting soils. It ‘looks’ like little pieces of Styrofoam but it’s not. It’s a mineral and is lightweight and easy to use. Sand can work too. You can mix sand into your potting mixes to aid in drainage.

All of these work but you might have something at home that will do the job. Leftover gravel? Busted up clay pots?

Water Retention:

If your pots are drying out too fast consider adding something to help hold the water in. Have you tried vermiculite? It’s a mineral and is great for holding moisture, especially in a sandy environment. Do you have access to coir? It’s expensive here in Oklahoma but folks near where coconuts grow ought to be able to get this amendment for a reasonable price.

Mulch your plants. Mulch helps keep moisture from evaporating, keeps the ground cooler (and decomposes to add more organic matter back into the soil).


Do you add any type of nutrition into your growing containers (or garden)? The best (in my opinion) fertilizer for the garden is old (or composted) cow manure. (My folks once drove a full pickup bed home from my grandparents farm…) Composted poultry litter as well as rabbit/goat also are great natural fertilizers.

My favorite nutrient source, easy to obtain, easy to use, and dirt cheap, for the garden is well aged compost.

A good all around mix for your container grown plants is:

1 part garden dirt
1 part aged compost
1 part perlite

It’s not too late in the growing season to amend your container grown plants with a little aged compost. Your plants will flourish!

If you don’t have any homemade compost and hate hauling it home from the big box store then it’s time to start your own compost pile. You’ll have compost ready for your next growing season that you created!