I'm always looking for ways to save water in my garden and super thirsty annual containers are a non-starter for me. After a bit of thought and mooching about in my garden, I came up with two money-saving tricks for how to save earth and water in my annual containers.
Today I'm going to show you how I use those tricks to pot up my bedding plants so that they provide us with prolific blooms all Summer and if we're lucky with the weather, well into Autumn too!
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Why plant annual containers?
I love planting summer annuals in containers for summer. They always provide a lovely pop of colour even when nothing else in the garden is blooming.
Summer annuals usually last until the end of September or sometimes October where I live. It depends upon how soon the cold weather hits us but they provide plenty of interest right up until Autumn.
Pinterest fillers for deep annual containers
This year, I wanted to plant four deep annual containers along the length of our deck. The containers are pretty deep and would take up a large amount of planting earth.
As summer annuals don't need a deep container full of earth, I went about finding some organic filling material for my flower containers which I could add to the bottom of the pots. This would help me save some money on potting soil.
I've seen some methods for planting deep annual containers I've seen in photos on Pinterest. Mostly, people have used plastic bottles, drink cans or polystyrene packing pellets to fill out the bottom of the containers.
Using bottles or cans as packing material makes the flower pots lighter but the water just drains right through the topsoil and out through the bottom of the planting container.
With this method, the annual containers tend to dry out pretty quickly and copious amounts of water are needed to keep the thirsty summer annuals happy throughout the season.
That's not such an attractive prospect when you're doing your best to be environmentally friendly and aiming to save water in the garden.
Organic fillers for deep annual containers
I don't have an automatic drip system set up for watering the plants and containers in our garden so I was on the look-out for something to fill the bottom of my large annual containers.
I was looing for something which would not only help me save some money on potting earth but also act as a water spender for my plants.
After a bit of thought and mooching about in my garden, I came up with two money-saving and eco-friendly tricks for saving earth and water in my annual containers.
I'm passing them on to you today.
Annual Containers Organic Filler #1
For my first container, I decided to use some leftover Seramis planting granules which I found in our basement.
The granules are made of clay and are usually used for mixing with all potting soils, to improve them and loosen the structure.
Instead of adding the granules to the soil, I decided to use the to fill the bottom of some of my pots. That way, they would allow plenty of drainage.
Because the granules are porous they will store lots of water which will be available for my bedding plants to take up from the roots.
This will not only save on the amount of expensive potting earth I need but also on the amount of water I need to quench the thirst of my summer annuals too.
Annual Containers Organic Filler #2
The filler for my second batch of annual containers is my favourite. It's a tip I picked up from Monty Don of the BBC's 'Gardener's World'.
After summer was over last year, instead of throwing away the summer annuals or composting the earth and flowers that were in my balcony containers, I left them to one side of the garden throughout winter.
Now, I'm going to empty the containers. I'll use the earth to fill out the bottom of this year's deep annual containers.
A sure sign of global warming
Last winter was so mild that some of the trailing plants that I had in these annual containers last year have started to grow again.
I've separated those plants and I'm going to use them again to fill out the new annual containers. You'll see that a bit later on.
Usually, the winters here are extremely cold and we get snow for months on end. It would never have been possible to recycle bedding plants from one year to the next without a heated greenhouse. It's a sure sign of global warming that we have been able to do it this year!
Anyway, if you want to use this method you must remember to turn the old compost over before placing it in the bottom of the new annual containers.
The compost will usually be held together by the roots of last year's plants so you will easily be able to place it around the bottom of the pots.
You can also do this with grass sods. If you are digging up some of your turf to make way for other garden features or flower beds, don't get rid of it!
If you can, find a place at the back of the garden or somewhere out of sight to stack them upside down until it's time to pot up your summer annual containers again.
The compost or grass sods will fill out the bottom of the pots and retain moisture whilst allowing excess water to drain through to the bottom of the pots.
Annual containers – potting earth
Now I've added my filler to the bottom of the pots, it's time to add the new potting compost. Now that I don't need as much earth in my annual containers I can buy a better quality potting compost. Summer annuals are very hungry for nutrients and they will always perform better in nutrient-rich soil.
Why annual containers must be peat-free!
The soil I'm using here is peat-free and that's very important!
Peat is mined from peat bogs which are hundreds of years old and are amongst the rarest of all-natural habitats.
Because of intense mining to provide cheap garden compost, the peat bogs are being destroyed. They are now classed as endangered natural habitats which also harms our climate and promotes global warming.
If you buy cheap potting compost for your annual containers, the chances are pretty strong that you are buying compost containing peat.
By using fillers for the bottom of my pots, I can spend my money where it counts.
Peat free potting compost may be a little more expensive to buy however, it is usually packed full of nutrients that will help feed your plants all summer long.
Take a look at what the Royal Horticultural Society has to say about why you should be using Peat-free compost soil.
Watering annual container plants
It's important to make sure the plants are properly watered before planting. The best way to do this is to immerse the whole pot into a bucket of water. Hold the root ball under the water until all the air bubbles have stopped rising to the surface.
Once you've immersed all your summer annuals, you're ready for my next planting hack!
Potting hack for annual containers
If you've ever filled annual containers before, you'll know what a pain it is to plant the flowers after the potting earth has been added.
You're usually scraping away earth to add the root ball, then trying to squish more earth between the plants to fill the gaps. Meanwhile, the trailing plants are getting in the way and you can't see a thing!
My potting hack for annual containers makes life much easier! Here's how to do it:
Decide how high you want the plants to sit in the container leaving enough room around the rim for watering.
Fill the containers with earth but leave a space the depth of the flower pots.
Add some slow-release summer bedding fertilizer to the earth at this point. Follow the instructions on the box as to the required amount. Gently mix the fertilizer into the top layer of earth with your hands.
Arrange the flower pots on the earth and decided where to plant each plant.
Remove the plants from the pots and lay them to one side.
Place the empty pots back into the planting containers.
Fill up the spaces around and between the empty pots with potting earth.
Remove the empty pots.
Add the plants, without the pots to the spaces left by the pots.
Some of your plants may already be root bound. You can tell this by looking at the root ball. If the roots are packed tightly, starting to grow in a circle or have formed mats on the bottom of the pot, they are root-bound.
To give the plant a better chance of taking root in your new pot, pull at the roots a little with your fingers to break them up. This will also encourage the roots to start growing down and out again into the fresh earth and fertilizer.
Natural climbing frames for annual containers
One of the plants I've added to my annual containers this year is a pretty climbing Nasturtium with variegated leaves. When I picked this up from the garden centre, it was already attached to a small climbing frame. Knowing how fast nasturtiums grow, I know I'm going to have to make larger supports if I want to encourage the plant to grow vertically.
For the climbing frame, I'm going to insert four large branches into the container, one in each corner and I'll tie them together at the top with some string.
Next, I'm adding some natural wreaths over the top of the branches so that the Nasturtiums will have a place to rest as they climb.
These simple wreaths are made from wild Clematis vines. I managed to find them at the end of Spring whilst I was out walking with Brilli. They were just lying on the ground in the middle of the path.
I've twisted them into a circle and simply woven the vines in and out. Then I tucked the end in to stop it unravelling.
Filler plants for annual containers
Remember what I told you about the trailing plants that managed to survive the winter outside in a flower basket? Well, now I'm going to plant those into the spaces at the back of the container.
The plants look healthy and strong and I'm hoping they will take root, eventually filling out this gap at the back of the pot.
Watering plants in annual containers
Even though I've immersed the summer annuals in water, I still need to give the flowers a good watering. This will stop the dry soil from pulling the water away from the plants.
I'm also going to insert a glass water reservoir into each pot. Then, I won't water these containers again for a couple of days.
After that, depending on the weather, I will check the water in these annual containers every day and fill up the water reservoirs as needed.
Feeding plants in annual containers
As I've already mentioned above, Summer bedding plants are very hungry for nutrients. Even though I've added a slow-release fertilizer around the roots, I will still need to give the plants a weekly feed with a good quality liquid fertilizer.
So there you have it! That's my two money-saving tricks for how to save earth and water in your annual containers. I hope you like them and can use these tricks to pot up your bedding plants.
I hope your annual containers provide you with a gorgeous show of blooms all summer long. If you're lucky with the weather, you'll have them well into Autumn too!
If you are going to be using these tips next year, don't forget to save some of the earth from this year's annual containers.
One week later
In the photo below, you can see how the annual containers look after one week. You can see that the plants are filling out nicely.
The climbing Nasturtium is already resting on the rustic support.
The trailing plant which came from last year's containers has also taken root and is growing well.
Watch it on YouTube
Watch the video tutorial for Annual Containers and how to save earth and water on YouTube.
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Wow, great tips here! I've never thought to keep the soil from last year's annuals as filler on the bottom of deep pots but I will now. I'll admit that I have a brown thumb so I found this post very helpful. Thank you, Jayne 🙂 Pinned
Jayne Westerholt says
Thanks, Marie. My planters are thriving so it's working really well. Although to be fair, it's done nothing but rain since I planted them up! 🙁
These are such great tips, Jayne, thanks so much for sharing them. I never knew that about using peat-free soil so I will be switching immediately. I love how you use the empty containers to help make spacing so much easier - that is such a fantastic tip! Hope you're having a great week so far, CoCo
Jayne Westerholt says
Thank you Coco! Great news that you are making the switch to peat-free soil - every little helps! Yes, the tip with the empty containers makes potting up so much easier!
Chas Greener says
Thank you for sharing, this is a great post and I'm sure I'll be referencing it this summer.
Jayne Westerholt says
Thanks, Chas! I'm so glad you found it helpful 🙂
I stack flowerpots to fill containers, too! Your containers are lovely! Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm!
Jayne Westerholt says
Thank you, Cecilia, I'm glad you liked my containers! Always lovely sharing with you!
Rachel Harper says
Such great tips. I've pinned this for future reference.
Look for your feature on Wednesday's Charming Homes & Gardens Link Party
Jayne Westerholt says
Thank you so much for featuring this post Rachel, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
Kim | Shiplap and Shells says
I absolutely loved your post! I learned so much and can't wait to use some of these tips! Look for your feature on Charming Homes and Gardens this Wednesday!
Jayne Westerholt says
I will definitely be there on Wednesday, thank you so much Kim!
I learned so much from this! Thank you for sharing at Charming Homes & Gardens! I need all the gardening help I can get!!
Jayne Westerholt says
You're welcome Kristin, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂