Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Assessing a new garden, and when to say "No" !

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Strawberry and Herb pots: how to make them better!

Someone offered me an unwanted strawberry pot the other day; what a kind thought, you might say.

But there was a catch - they were giving it to me because it "didn't work".

Hmmm!

The problem was, they said, that every time they watered it, the water just flooded straight through the pot and out of all the holes, washing out the soil and leaving the plants hanging on precariously.

This was because it was a badly designed pot!!

Firstly, in case you're not clear on what a Strawberry pot is, it's a pot which has several openings in the sides, designed so that you can grow six or so separate plants, each with its own opening.

They are brilliant for strawberries, because strawberries like to dangle, and the design of the pot keeps them off the soil, so they don't go mushy and horrible. It is also a lot easier to protect a pot from slugs and snails, compared to having them in a bed or border: the pot can be sat on your patio, you can put copper tape around the base (which doesn't actually work, as per this article), and they are close to hand.

They are also very popular for herbs, because you can plant six or more different herbs in each pot, sit it on the patio by the kitchen door, and be able to pop outside and snip off a fragrant handful whenever you wish. And as herbs like to be well-drained, they are particularly suited for them.... oh hang on, strawberries need a lot of water, don't they? More of this later.

Here's a typical herb pot:

As you can see, nice terracotta pot, holes in the side for a variety of different plants, and space on top for a slightly larger one.

This is actually a very successful way to grow herbs: because they have a limited amount of soil, they don't get unmanageably huge.

And, because of the design shortcomings, the top one tends to get all the water, and the lower plantings tend to be rather dry, which suits most herbs.

So far, so hoopy,  However, these pots are more often used for strawberries, and this is the sort of picture they use to sell them:


There, isn't that lovely?

Bursting with fruit, as healthy as a healthy thing, and only taking up six square inches on your sunny patio.....

However, there's a bit of a conflict with the above situation - strawberries need a lot of water, and they take a lot of nutrition out of the soil.

How do we deal with these two opposing sets of conditions?

Well, first things first, decide what you are going to grow. If it's herbs, all well and good, plant it up and off you go.

But if you want strawberries, you will need to take a bit more care with your choice of pot, and with your management of it.

Right, why do some of them leak water all over the place? In a word, because they are badly designed.  The holes in the sides need to have quite extensive lips, like little cups.

Here's a perfect example of a really crap design. It's a cheaply-produced pot, most likely it was machine-made by the million, and they just stamped out the holes and presumably discarded the unwanted clay.

This sort of pot is only ever going to be any use for herbs, and even then it's going to be annoying to use: when you first fill it, the soil is going to fall out all  over your feet, and even once the plants have become established enough to hold the soil in, every time you water you are going to have a flood on the patio.


This - right - is the style of pot you should be looking at. Don't look at the overall shape of the pot, that doesn't matter, but look at the way the planting holes have cups underneath them.


"Ahhhh!" I hear you say.

Yes, that's right, it's that simple: buy pots with projecting cups, which hold the soil, and hold the water.

Right, so what do you when you've inadvertently bought (or been given) the wrong type?

Here's my personal fix - I was given a beautiful blue strawberry pot with, alas, the wrong style of hole. In my local charity shop, I found a set of six blue mugs for £2, almost exactly the same colour. Ten minutes' work with a small hammer, and I'd managed to get four half-cups, which I then cemented in place with Milliput (modelling clay).

I also added a strip of Milliput along the broken edge, so I didn't get slashed to death when tending to my plants....

Life being what it is, I broke a couple of the mugs in all the wrong places, so I didn't get six decent halves - you can see in this photo that my answer is to block up the bottom-most holes with plastic, and to do without those ones: at least I now have four good planting cups, instead of none!

You could use rigid plastic for this: short pieces cut from old guttering would do - so search the shed and see what bits and bobs you have lying around, and see if any of them can be put to use.

When you fill the pot, use shop-bought, good quality compost: this is one time when home-made compost is actually not the best, as it can have variable amounts of "goodness" in it, and that means varying from "mmm, quite a lot" to "oh dear, practically nothing" and alas, there is no quick and easy way to test your own compost for nutritional value.

Also, and more to the point, homemade compost is inevitably full of weed seeds. Which means you waste a lot of that "goodness" in growing weeds which compete with your strawberry plants, and you waste a lot of time trying to winkle them out without disturbing your precious crop.

And, don't just plant up and forget: the nutrients in shop-bought compost only last for 4-6 months, and strawberries are greedy feeders, so give them some balanced feed - such as Gromore - every couple of weeks, and a little sploosh of tomato feed in their water once every week or so.

Right, so now we've either thrown out the "wrong" pots and replaced them, or we've found a way to bodge them into being usable: we've used good compost and have lined up our feeding regime: so how do we water?

Even with the right shaped pot, the trick is to water very slowly to avoid it all spilling out of the top, and out of the top-most planting pockets. I find it helps to ensure that you don't fill the main body of the pot right up to the top - allow a couple of inches so that the water can sit on the soil and soak in.

If you find that frustrating,  my answer to this is to insert a couple of lengths of seep hose vertically into the pot when I was planting it up. So now I pour the water down the tops of the seep hose as well as on the soil: they fill up with water right down to the bottom, and release it slowly.

As an alternative, you could get a length of plastic pipe, drill a lot of small holes in it, block up the bottom, and stand it vertically in the pot when you plant it. Then you just fill up the pipe with water, and it gradually empties itself into the soil.

So, in a nutshell: buy the right design: if you have the wrong design, see if you can change it: use bought compost and be prepared to use additional feed: water slowly, add some pipes or seep hose to get the water right down to the bottom, and there you go, strawberries of your own!


1 comment:

  1. I find the only cure for the 'wrong design' pots is to line them with a black plastic liner (compost sack turned inside out) and then cut a slit through which to insert the roots of your desired plant. Mind you, if you cut too big a slit yo are back to square one! I admire your shenanigans with the pottery but would only use the cups for drinking tea.

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