SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

May 10, 2013

Broken pots, raised beds and hydrangeas

Q: Should I put a piece of broken pottery or stones in the bottom of every pot or container I’m planting? What about in window boxes?

A: Yes! There are several reasons you need something to cover the drainage hole in the bottom of any container. One is to keep the soil from running out every time you water, which is unattractive on your deck and wastes the soil, as well. Another is to assure drainage and make sure the soil doesn’t clog the drainage hole. Pot shards are fine, or use gravel or stone if available. Or borrow an old trick from the people who grow bonsai, those little trees that must have proper drainage: Use a piece of wire window screen — save the pieces of torn screen that you are replacing, or ask your repairman to save you some screen scraps. Unlike added stone, screen is weightless and can be easily cut to fit the bottom of odd-sized pots and window boxes. Another option is using a disposable drip coffee pot filter over the drain hole. Filters are relatively inexpensive, and they’ll last through a season or two. The porous paper filter allows water to slowly drip out of the pot, keeps soil in the pot where it belongs, keeps bugs from crawling into the pot, weighs nothing and is biodegradable.

Q: I think I want to try building a raised bed this year, because I’ve read they are warmer and I can plant earlier. But I rent my house and don’t want it be a big expense, and I might not want it to be permanent — so I don’t want to spend a lot in case I don’t like it! Any suggestions?

A: No matter where you live, the climate presents challenges for gardeners who grow their own food. In the North, cold is a limiting factor for some crops. A raised bed will warm up faster in the spring and can be planted sooner. In the fall, the reverse is true — it holds heat longer, so you buy another week or so of growing time. But there are other reasons to make raised beds:

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