How to Prepare Containers for Planting

May 09, 2012

Need to learn how to prepare containers for planting?

Properly readying containers for plants that will thrive takes a little more work than just dumping in potting soil and plugging in the plants.

Water the Soil & Let Drain Before Planting in Containers

Water the Soil & Let Drain Before Planting in Containers

Begin by filling your pots with a quality potting soil mixture.

Do not put rocks, Styrofoam or other materials in the bottom of the container to “improve drainage”. Doing this will do this just the opposite.

Do not fill the container with soil shoveled out of the garden beds. More likely than not, this material will be too dense for container growing.

Once the containers are filled with soil, water them thoroughly. Use a slow, steady stream of water. Depending on how dry the potting soil is, you may need to water a few times to completely wet the potting soil. Using slightly warmer water will often saturate the soil more rapidly than very cold water. (I often run my hose into the a sunny spot. Run it briefly to fill the hose and then let that water in the hose sit in the sun while I fill the pots with soil. That way the first water is warm. Or, I fill my watering cans from my rain barrels and set them in the greenhouse to warm up a bit while I fill the pots with soil.)

Do not lightly wet the soil. This won’t get your soil moist enough deeper into the pot where the roots will grow.

Do not squirt a harsh stream of water into the pot. This will just make a big mess and not saturate the soil.

Large Containers May Need to Be Filled in Place

Large Containers May Need to Be Filled in Place

Once the soil is completely saturated, allow the containers to rest and drain so that the mixture isn’t gloppy. The goal is to create a moist, well-drained environment in which to plant.

To reduce waste, I fill my smaller pots with soil on our tiny lawn and then wet them there. This way the run-off from the pots also waters the grass, plus extra nutrients that run out from the potting soil head into the lawn’s soil. (With very large, heavy containers, this method isn’t always practical.)

Once your pots are filled with moist but drained potting soil, you’re ready to begin filling them with your plants. If your potting soil isn’t amended with a fertilizer already, consider adding a bit of non-synthetic fertilizer or vermicompost right after planting. And always be sure to water the containers right after you have filled them with plants. This helps their roots make critical contact with the soil and begin their new life in this new, hospitable home. (I usually move the containers to their final destination before I do this final watering. This way, I’m not slogging dripping pots all over the garden.)


  1. Terry says:

    Good basic tips and a timely reminder for new gardeners bit by the gardening bug and spring fever!


  2. Terry thanks for letting us know that the container article was useful for you. Enjoy & keep having fun in the garden!

  3. […] soil with water and keep it moist longer, Garden Mentors recommends using warm water over cold when preparing containers for planting. By watering the soil and then letting it drain before you put the plant in, you can also help your […]

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