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How to Prepare Containers for Planting

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Need to learn how to prepare containers for planting?

We’re here to teach you how to prepare containers for planting the right way. Properly readying containers for plants that will thrive takes a little more work than just dumping in some dirt and plugging in the plants.

Water the Soil & Let Drain Before Planting in Containers

Water the Soil & Let Drain Before Planting in Containers

Easy Do’s & Don’t’s to prepare your pots for planting:

  • Do: Fill your pots with a quality potting soil mixture.
  • And do: Consider avoiding any potting mix made with peat. That’s because using peat can be very environmentally unfriendly.
  • Do: Look for more sustainable potting mix materials such as coir.
  • Do not: Put rocks, Styrofoam, broken pieces of other pots 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…

You still have a few steps to complete before your containers are ready for planting.

  • Do: Water them thoroughly before you plant. 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.
  • Do: Try using slightly warmed water. That’s because it 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 dampen 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. And, odds are you’ll lose a lot of potting soil this way.
Filling large pots in place to prepare them for planting

Large Containers May Need to Be Filled in Place

Once the soil is completely saturated…

  • Do Not: Immediately insert your plants and seeds into gloppy soil.
  • Do allow the filled containers to rest and drain.  The goal is to create a moist, well-drained environment in which to plant.

Does this work for all kinds of plants & planting pots, vessels & containers?

  • Yes! This technique works for ceramic containers.
  • And, you can do it for plastic flower pots too.
  • Plus, you can rely on it for foam garden vessels as well.
  • As well, this is how to prepare indoor garden pots and outdoor garden containers.

To reduce waste, I fill my smaller pots with soil on 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.

What should I do about dry soil in my garden beds?

If your garden beds are dry, read this article for help.

Once your pots are filled with moist but drained potting soil…

You’re now all set to begin filling them with your plants. It’s as easy as that. Congrats! Now you know how to prepare containers for planting vegetables, flowers, mixed plantings, seeds, seedlings, and more. In fact, you’re all set to prepare just about any pot for planting just about any plant.

What do you do after you’ve planted?

Well, enjoy your potted containers. And, of course, keep your plants well watered. That’s because potted environments aren’t natural and can be hard on plants. Stress may also mean you’ll need to inspect for pests and disease often. And you may need to do a lot of tidying.

And, hey, if you want more help from us, sign up right now so you’re the first notified when we open enrollment for our limited seating group garden coaching club and online learning programs. (Plus, you’ll get immediate access to additional free gardening help that you can download and keep.) And this way you’ll be able to work with us to get back your biggest gardening challenges fast!

19 comments on “How to Prepare Containers for Planting

  1. Terry on

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


  2. barbara on

    If you are reusing containers from previous years do you empty and use detergent to clean them out before filling with soil again?

  3. Garden Mentors on

    There are many recommendations on sterilizing pots for re-use. That being said, I’ve worked in propagation greenhouses that don’t bother. As for using detergent, we’ve never seen a soap product suggested as such.

  4. Greg on

    You say to let the container drain before planting but fail to give information as to the size location or quantity, so far my thoughts on moisture, rock and dirt have been wrong. THANK YOU

  5. Greg on

    Hi sorry about that ,I forgot to write “hole” size location and quanity needed for draining. Also what would you suggest as to a natural insect repellant for tomatos. thanks a lot.

  6. Priscilla on

    I have just come across your article on planting pots and planters. I have always put stones or broken bricks in the bottom to help with drainage, just a thin layer and used a compost from the garden centre with a good name. the pots stand on the patio some on stands to lift them . this year when I water these pots, usually with a spray on the end of the watering can it is running out of the bottom almost instantly whether on a stand or not. It cannot surely be wetting the soil but the plants seem to be doing okay.. It is the same soil in the pots that had the winter bulbs in, should I have renewed it.

  7. Garden Mentors on

    Priscilla, Sounds like things might be root bound. Containers aren’t the same as planting in Earth. So, refurbishing is usually a good idea. And, you might want to leave out those stones and bricks for all the reasons we mention. Good luck.

  8. Patty on

    New vegetable container gardener. How soon before planting can we prep the containers? I have my seedlings started in my house and am in the PNW.

  9. Garden Mentors on

    Patty, Prepping early is helpful. But prepping many days, weeks or months before planting in a pot may just invite other things to move in before you plant intentionally. And the soil may become depleted or dry out if it sits too long. Hope that helps!

  10. Richard Ziporlin on

    I bought a large planter box that fits over a fence railing. Do I need to punch holes in it?

  11. Garden Mentors on

    Richard, Thanks for writing in. If you plan to grow plants in your planters, drainage holes are very important. So it the planters don’t already have sufficient drainage, then it’s probably time to create some of your own. Good luck!

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