Small space gardening

When the first warm days arrive in spring, I’m ready to get my hands in the dirt. Although some garden seeds can be sown outdoors now, it’s too soon to plant many of the common container plants in mid-April here in zone 5.  I can prepare my pots now though, so when the time comes, I’m good to go. It’s not one of my favorite projects, but it has to be done. Here are some of the pots that need tended to.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I started getting more into container gardening a couple years ago after finding a couple of large, killer pots at some yard sales that were ridiculously cheap. And since my yard is small, it gives me another avenue for planting so I figured why not give it a try. Now of course, I’m hopelessly addicted. No worries about bunnies, insects or crappy soil.

It’s a good thing my garage sale pots were almost free, because I was shocked, disappointed, frustrated, and then amused to find out how expensive potting soil is. It’s dirt, after all. In my mind it’s like buying water to drink when it comes out of the faucet for free. But I realize potting soil is a whole different animal, and is a necessity for healthy container plants.  Since I almost had to take out a second mortgage to buy lots of potting soil when I first started this adventure, I decided rather than dump out all of my potting soil and start over each year, I would amend what I have and save some money.

To illustrate why you shouldn’t re-use potting soil without amending it, check this out. Here’s what came out of my window boxes. It was just like popping an ice-cube out of an ice-cube tray.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasishoto IMG_4922.jpg

 Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Solid chunks like that one came out of every pot when I dumped out the soil. Here’s a clump of roots that came out of one of my larger pots after I shook all of the soil loose.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Plants aren’t going to be very happy trying to find their way through all those old roots. I promise.

It’s easiest to dump the pots into a wheel barrow, and remove all of the chucks and roots. Those go into my compost pile. I have a pretty large wheel barrow (!!garage sale find!!), but I could only dump a few pots at a time, or it would be too difficult to mix it all up.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

The old potting soil can be amended with either some fresh potting soil, or as I’m doing this year, worm castings and composted manure. Here are some castings I’ve been saving from my worm bin.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

What you don’t want to add to your potting soil is dirt from your yard. I tried that one year when I ran short of potting soil. I thought just a small amount of “earth” mixed in with it wouldn’t hurt, but I was wrong. The soil became hard as a rock and the plants didn’t do well.

So now I have my amended soil ready to put back into my pots.

Some of my smaller pots that I love, don’t have drainage holes in them. I won’t purchase any more ceramic pots without drainage holes because plants don’t seem to like them all that much. I’ve tried drilling holes in ceramic pots with a specialized drill bit, but it’s nearly impossible to do. But since these pots are among my favorites, I still want to use them–drainage holes or not. I use Styrofoam peanuts in them to allow for some drainage space. Even though the pots are medium-sized, they’re still heavy, so peanuts are the way to go. Here’s two of them.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

It’s much less mess if you just put the pot right into the wheelbarrow (if you have one) to fill it.

 Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

For larger pots, I do pretty much the same thing. The lightweight “fake” pots are easy to drill through, and often do not come with drainage holes. After I drilled holes in the larger pots, I duck taped a small section of screen over the hole to help keep the soil from running out.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I know they look like garbage cans at the moment, but for the bigger pots, I add big chunks of Styrofoam and/or empty plastic bottles (with the lids on) so I don’t have to use so much soil. The plants grow just fine in several inches of soil–they don’t need two feet of it. And of course it helps keep the pots from getting too heavy. Also, in the bigger pots, when it’s time to refurbish your soil, it’s much easier to fish through and pull out large bottles and chunks of Styrofoam than it is to pick out a couple hundred packing peanuts.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I went to a local garden shop today for a few seed packets. I started some lettuce, radishes and onion sets in some of my pots.  I couldn’t help myself and bought a four pack of annuals for one of my smaller pots. Here’s my instant gratification for all my hard work. If it snows or freezes again, yes snow is a possibility–anything can happen in Illiniois–I’ll bring my one pot inside with me for safe keeping.

Tips for Prepping Pots for Planting / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you’re not a container gardening person, but want to try your hand at an in-the-ground garden, now in mid-April is the time to sow some of the cool-weather crop seeds outside. (See the “Planting Timeline” in the margin of this web page to find out what can be planted now in zone 5.).

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at


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