do you mulch your containers?

jiggreen(zone 6b, carlisle PA)May 1, 2006

it always drives me nuts that when i plant new containers and then water them, the potting soil always splashes up onto the plants. i started thinking about mulching the containers, but i'm not sure if that's an ok idea or not.

do you all mulch your containers?


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username_5(banned for no reason)

haven't been, but have been considering it. Tossed various ideas around in my mind, but never can decide what i want to do.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 6:54PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

I sorta do sometimes--with a few wide stones, both to keep the soil in place and for weight in the wind. I don't put a thick layer of bark or cover the soil surface completely or anything traditional like that--it's more just a breaking point for the water stream. And I know this is odd, but lately I've been using some large whole abalone shells that have been in the yard for years--they're big and keep my soil in place, but mostly they keep the neighborhood cats from digging around in the containers. Plus they're cool-looking--mother-of-pearl insides and all that.

The stones and shells don't float up when you water, either.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 7:12PM
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username_5(banned for no reason)

The shells sound like a nice way to mulch a pot. About the only place I know to get cool shells is by eating a lot of clams/oysters whatever they are at the all you can eat chinese buffet.

I should start saving mine and making my friends eat them too.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 7:38PM
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jiggreen(zone 6b, carlisle PA)

hmmm...oyster shells, now there's an idea! i work at a restaurant so i pretty much have an unlimited supply..never thought about using them in my garden. thanks for the idea!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 8:44PM
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I mulch my large strawberry jars. I think it helps keep the soil from washing out of the side holes.

Oyster shells have many uses in the garden. I grew up in a water community and they were used all over the yards. Also for driveways and some of the roads.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 11:21PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

The abalone shells are really the prettiest, but hard to get even on the West coast now--you used to be able to dive for them--I have the shells from years ago--but now you have to free dive and only harvest one per day or something like that; makes it a difficult task and they're hard to get now....classic overfishing :(

If you can get scallop shells those would be very pretty too, they're so delicate-looking--once again something you can look for at an Asian restaurant/grocery or a fishmarket maybe, if not a craft store--I've seen them there sometimes.

And since these shells are a *topical* application I'd guess you wouldn't run into too many pH or calcium problems...

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 1:59AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I mulch almost all my containers with something. Most get licorice root mulch, some others get shredded oak leaves and/or pine needles, and the rest get some bark chips. It really helps to not only conserve moisture but for my shrubs, perennials, and trees, eventually breaks down and adds to the soil.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 8:11AM
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Try chicken grit.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 10:30AM
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aktnyc(z7a NYC)

I faithfully mulch my containers, deeply. Since I have been experimenting with mostly roses for three years now, I feel it is important to keep them damp and cool but drained in hot weather, to keep contaminated leaves off the soil (this is a rose problem that doesn't affect other plants so much) and simply to look good in a patio garden, I'm all for it. I use commercial mulch.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 4:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I prefer not to mulch. I reason that my containers are usually full enough that soil is shaded, so there's no benefit there. It also slows evaporative water loss from soil, so a mulched container is not usually a cooler container. As noted, it does slow water loss, but plants prefer to be in a soils that require frequent waterings as it provides more air to the roots as a result of their open (porous) nature. In addition, the more frequent waterings are actually better for plants as they provide frequent replacement of stale soil gasses with fresh air (at each watering). I don't think decomposing mulches are any benefit to container soils, as they (the soils) are usually a very high % of (hopefully very slowly) decomposing matter anyway.

Duane - I have used the grit or white marble chips to reflect more light into the interior of plants that are reluctant to bud-back on old wood. It does have the advantage of reducing container temps from solar gain, too.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 6:30PM
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Westview(Zone 8, N. TX)

I have from 150 to 200 containers of all sizes as my garden. I mulch them all faithfully. The mulch keeps them from drying out too badly here in north Texas and also (most importantly to me) allows me to water them with the hose without washing holes in the soil. The very BEST container mulch I have found is shredded native Texas cedar found at Lowes. The other great one (but more expensive) is shredded eucalyptus. You need a shredded mulch that will not wash away. The secret to watering mulched containers is to use your thumb on the hose to spray some water on first to get the mulch wet so it won't wash away with the stronger hose stream. We also use the shredded paper cage litter from the daughter's guinea pig cage where we really need to hold water (like around roses in dry ground and that sort of thing) it is full of "fertilizer" but mainly it holds its shape in a mound and holds huge amounts of water without letting it run away. I use this mostly around plants in the ground as it tends to dry out rather too much in a container. I am absolutely sold on mulching containers but you do need to find the right organic mulch. Of course rocks are always good BUT when you move your container with a dolly all the rocks fall out all over the yard and get thrown around by the lawnmower and your hubby comes in bleeding and bruised and threatening divorce or worse--and I gave up on rocks after the first year.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 1:26PM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

I haven't gotten around to mulching but I'm going to. I'd rather have my toddler pitch out handfuls of mulch than handfuls of soil!


    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 5:37PM
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Mebane(z9 Fl)

I mulched the lettuce that I'm growing in containers with just some cheap cypress mulch and they are doing great. It makes it much easier to water.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 7:24AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Passing comment: I was recently 1/3 of the answer panel in a question/answer session for a local garden group. When the question of mulch came up, another answerist (new word - hope you like it) ;o) fielded the question and referred to a recent university study (which I have forgotten the name of, unfortunately) that tested the effects of various organic mulches on plants (grown in ground). The conclusion was that plants grown under cypress mulch grew with less vitality and produced less biomass than plants grown under any other type tested. I won't draw the conclusion that cypress mulch has allelopathic properties or is at least mildly phytotoxic, but based on the info provided, it would seem to at least point that way.

I realize this sounds like hearsay, but I know and trust this source well & she does substantial research for the several club newsletters for which she is editor.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 11:23AM
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jerseygirl07603 z6NJ

I always mulch my containers with either shredded bark or mini-pine nuggets. Especially the herbs - can't stand it when the dirt splashes on the leaves and I have to rinse before using!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 6:48PM
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I mulch heavily with plain old pine bark. It makes a serious difference in moisture retention - and keeping the dirt from splashing up is a bonus.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 10:32PM
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pdxjules(8, Portland, OR)

I think small rocks are fine for the purpose you mentioned. They'll look pleasing when wet, too.

For routine soil-health mulching however, I topdress with a cup of moist compost or humus now and then. I seems to boost nutrition and moisture retention, and provide occaisional worms and oodles of microbial activity, that can help aerate existing soil as it tends to become compacted.

Now and then a rock or piece of wood is added to shade roots of some ground planted plants, so why not pots too? Primroses love growing next to hunks of wood bark.

My containers are pretty tightly planted and soil doesn't stay loose for long. They need total renovation at least every other year. Also, I tend to tuck in broken twigs, pinched tips and cuttings as I walk thru the garden - so I wind up with all sorts of odd things that need to be transplanted or potted on. (Rescuing rooted cuttings motivatyed me to repot, more than seeing others things begin to suffer from compacted roots, fade and dry up) I have about a dozen large pots gathered in shade now for dissection and re-potting. A large bag of Perlite is standing by (what a great product!) and I have plenty of compost to mix in.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 10:38PM
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I think mulching is a good idea. I get some pretty vigorous weeds here and pulling them out tends to pull the good plants out too. I've used cypress mulch with good results. I've been told that rocks shouldn't be used with roses since they tend to draw and hold heat on the roots which roses resent.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 3:02PM
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For the last couple years because i use so many pots to save money and my back to make the pots lighter, i first put a coffee filter over the drainage hole , add a couple inches of cypress mulch (commercial) add miracle grow potting soil mixed with water crystals pop plant in and then add another layer of mulch .I really like this method have never had problems with my plants they grow great i just liquid fertilize monthley and deadhead.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 7:14AM
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I do mulch; but if I'm watering something with bare soil that I don't want to disturb, I put my hand flat on the soil and aim the water onto the back of my hand.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 11:37PM
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kyplantjunkie(z6 KY)

I also mulch my containers- usually with a finely shredded hardwood mulch. An expensive, but stricking alternative is aquarium gravel. I've used the black gravel with brightly colored tropical plants- it looks great!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 8:44AM
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