When I start seeds or pot up seedlings I use an odd collection of containers. The list includes rigid plastic organizer bins, cut-off soda bottles, butter tubs, party cups, and any left-over plastic cells from last year’s garden shop purchases. At the propagation stage I focus on the health of the plant rather than the presentation of the container. My requirements for an object to become a temporary plant bed include:

  • Needs to hold damp soil without splitting
  • Must include a drain for excess water
  • Should provide adequate root space for the plant
  • Must stand up without tipping

When the plant is ready to move to the garden the color, size, and shape of the container become important. Last winter I walked among the dormant hostas sleeping soundly in their pots. As I viewed the collection from different vantage points I saw a hodgepodge of containers such as one might find at a yard sale. That is not wrong, but it is not the look I would like for that part of my garden. With the plants dormant for the winter the pots had become the garden view.

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Plenty of root space for these dianthus which survived the hot summer of 2019

As spring brought warmer days the hostas poked through the soil, and I began repotting. With container gardening I’ve found that renewing the soil at least every second year keeps the plants performing at their best. And this became the perfect opportunity to upgrade the containers.

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Replacing all our containers with a standardized format was an overpriced option, and my gardening partner, Shawn, loves to include differing shapes among the containers anyway. She agreed that we could improve on the color match, and I set out to paint the containers while I was amending the soil.

Spray paint products have come a long way from the splattering dribbling mess-makers of yore. A few simple steps can turn a drab eyesore into a new and beautiful container.

  • Empty the container.
  • Scrub it with a stiff brush and soapy water.
  • Rinse well.
  • Allow the container to dry thoroughly.
  • Apply the spray paint.
  • When the paint is dry add soil and install the plant.

I’ve written an article and included photos here: Container Upgrade.

Our current colors of choice are Ultra Matte Slate and Metallic Oil Rubbed Bronze from Rust-Oleum’s 2X product line.

Once I renewed the hosta garden I looked at other portions of the garden. We have a few smaller decorative pots which have found their way into the lineup. Stuffed full of dianthus, a plant I dearly love, they add interest to the back steps. This summer though we lost several of those plants despite daily waterings.

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A beautiful ceramic pot!

As I investigated I learned that July 2019 was the hottest month on record for the entire earth according to the official record keepers[1]. The dianthus in the ornate pots shriveled while their counterparts in the not-so-decorative larger pots thrived. All other factors such as soil mixture and the frequency of watering were constant. The smaller pots could not retain enough moisture to support the plants during the sweltering afternoons. Sure, the containers looked good, but they contributed to an epic fail when it came to plant health.

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Another wilting plant.

My plants may sprout again next spring, and if so I will move them to larger pots which can hold more soil and moisture. The smaller pots will move to the potting bench until a suitable place opens for them. As a gardener I can’t fall in love with the containers, no matter how good they look, if the choice means my plants will suffer.

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Pretty pots all in a row. The plants, not so much.

The best-looking and most appealing solution in this life is not always the wisest choice. Samuel the prophet visited Jesse’s house to anoint a new king for Israel from among Jesse’s sons. First up was the towering oldest son, Eliab. Samuel was certain he had found the king, but God declined the choice. One by one seven of Jesse’s sons passed before Samuel, and each time God rejected the candidate. Samuel’s investigation revealed that Jesse had one additional son, the youngest, who was apparently forgotten as he tended the family sheep. Turns out that young man, David, was God’s choice for King. God’s lesson for Samuel in that experience is just as timely today as it was in Jesse’s Bethlehem home.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

The smaller pots are pretty, but they don’t have the heart to weather the Zone 7 summer heat. I must make a better choice.


The garden has so much to teach us, doesn’t it?

[1] https://www.noaa.gov/news/july-2019-was-hottest-month-on-record-for-planet, accessed 9/11/2019

Note: The leading image is used courtesy of user Teacake at https://morguefile.com/creative/Teacake