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Container gardening : watering and fertilization

Proper watering is essential for successful container gardening.
Photo: Flickr (Michael Coghlan)
Watering can

Proper watering and fertilization are key for successful container gardening. Here are some tips for potted plant care :


  • Check the degree of soil dryness before watering. An easy method consists of burying the index finger in the soil up to the second joint. If the soil is dry, then water it. If it seems damp, put off the watering. Check the state of the soil every day. On hot summer days it can be necessary to water certain plants twice a day.
  • Always water thoroughly, until the water runs out through the drainage holes. If you have to place a saucer under your pot, think about emptying it to keep roots from rotting.
  • Avoid watering your potted plants at the hottest and sunniest times of day in order to limit water loss by evaporation. Water preferably in the morning or, failing that, in the early evening. Pay attention to the watering restrictions issued by your municipality or borough.
  • Irrigate the soil and not the foliage, because dampness on leaves encourages the development of fungal diseases. That precaution is especially important if you water in the evening, because the foliage risks staying damp throughout the night.
  • If you garden in a very windy spot (which is often the case on balconies and terraces), your potted plants will tend to dry out quickly. It might prove useful to set up a windbreak of some kind (trellis, screen, etc.).
  • Put an organic mulch on the soil surface to cut down on watering. Apply 3 to 5 cm of it, taking care to keep the stalk of the plant clear. Water the soil before applying the mulch


  • Pot plants generally require more fertilizer than those grown in the ground, since the reserve of nutrients they have access to is limited and minerals are rapidly leached away by repeated watering and rainfall.
  • Potting soil with compost and natural slow-release fertilizer will meet the needs of light-feeding potted plants. Plants that require more nutrients will need backup fertilization a number of times during the season. Use natural fertilizers such as liquid algae, fish emulsions, chicken manure, etc., following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

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