Hartley Magazine

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Tips for potting with less mess

Sometimes I imagine the perfect potting bench. It’s inside a conservatory, of course, so I can pot up my imaginary rare orchids all year round. It has ample space to work, a bin for my own special blend of potting mix—oh, wait, I’ll need a separate bin for orchid mix too. There’s a handy faucet for watering and washing up, room to store the watering cans and other tools, and storage for every size of pot I could possibly need. With my imaginary potting bench, I can make as much of a mess as I like and sweep it all up without tracking it into the kitchen. Or have the imaginary gardener’s assistant come sweep it up for me.

Potting - 11.06.16
Potting Shoe

If you’re planning a greenhouse, be sure to include an area for potting, repotting, and generally fussing with plants. Your Hartley Botanic can include a workspace at table height or bench height. If you don’t have a dedicated space, find a place to pot where you won’t have to stoop– the patio table, the picnic table. Use a plastic tablecloth for protection, and move any chair and sofa cushions out of the messy zone.

I like to pot in a box—something with sides to keep the potting mix and water from going all over. Among the many greenhouse accessories available from Hartley is a handy potting shoe, a metal box designed just for potting. Other expedients include a cardboard box with the sides cut down or one of those shallow plastic boxes made for storing things under beds.

Plan your greenhouse with space to store all the bulky, heavy things used for potting. Personally, I like to keep bags of potting mix (regular mix, cactus mix, seed-starting mix) in a big, deep plastic bin on the floor. That makes it easy to scoop up a small amount of potting mix into another container without hefting the heavy bags. If you plan to store heavy materials on shelves, don’t put them too high; they’ll be harder to handle. And get the heavy-duty shelves.

Plan storage for pots too. I love the look of classic terra cotta pots, but usually I insert a plastic pot inside to keep water from evaporating from the soil through the porous terra cotta in hot Chicago summers. That means finding space to store both kinds. The terra cotta is bulky and heavy, so it goes on low shelves. The plastic pots tend to accumulate, so I try to keep only those that are standard sizes and nest together neatly, in sizes I tend to use.

I keep the tools I use for potting together: a dedicated trowel, a soil scoop, a pair of snippers, and a knife. I also include scraps of window screen and landscape fabric for covering the holes in the bottom of pots; labels; and permanent markers. When I have potting to do, I’m ready to go.

It’s lovely if you can include a faucet in your greenhouse. But if not, it’s handy to fill a couple of watering cans ahead of time to give each newly potted plant a good drenching.

There’s one other feature I’d love in my dream potting area: a recycling bin. When I’m putting together containers, I end up with a lot of plastic, such as cell packs and the pots from 4 inch annuals. If you rinse the soil off, most of that plastic can go in your regular recycling. So keep a box handy or ask your conservatory designer to include space for a bin.