For saving space and soil, this method also has several
other benefits, including no soil-borne diseases, no
weeds to pull and no soil to till, run-of-the-mill side
benefits of soil-less gardening.

Growing In Containers

Fertilizing Outdoor Plants Growing In Containers - Which Type Of Fertilizer To Use
By Jonathan Ya'akobi

In principle, the best way to provide nutrients to established garden plants growing in the soil, is to add on a consistent basis, organic matter in the form of compost. For as well being a source of the mineral nutriment essential to plant growth, organic matter improves and develops the health of the habitat in which the plants grow, namely the soil. There are circumstances though when the use of chemical fertilizer is preferable to compost. One of these relates to plants grown in pots. As there are a number of methods by which chemical fertilizer can be applied, the question arises as to which is the most appropriate.

Hydroponics Guide

Plants in pots or containers must always be grown in some form of artificial potting medium, in order to ensure the correct air/moisture balance in the root zone. One such medium, highly regarded by landscape professionals today, is Perlite, which amongst its various properties, excels both in its capacity to retain moisture on the one hand, and sufficient oxygen on the other. Chemically, it is almost entirely inert, which is an advantage in one sense, as the problem of salt build-up is avoided. Yet the other side of the coin is that mineral nutrient is liable to be entirely lacking for the plants, unless supplied on a constant basis. This is why regular applications of chemical fertilizer are necessary. How though should it be applied?

Clearly, the old method of manually spooning readily soluble fertilizer is impractical at least in the case of Perlite,as the work would have to be carried out every few days or so. An elegant way round this is by installing an automatic fertilizer pump, where a specially balanced blend of liquid fertilizer is injected through the drip irrigation lines. Today, the pumps are calibrated by the manufacturer so that low and safe concentrations are supplied to the plant's roots, during every watering. Watering a bit to excess on each occasion ensures that the salinity of the medium is kept in check.

Despite its many benefits, there are a number of drawbacks to this method, not least of which, is the legal obligation required by most countries to install an instrument preventing the backflow of water. However in Mediterranean climates, typified by hot dry summers, and mild cool and wet winters, there is another disadvantage with fertilizer pumps, which should be considered.

It is often forgotten that the garden plants require some access to nutrients during the mild Mediterranean winter, albeit at greatly reduced levels. For plants growing in the ground, the compost added in the autumn should suffice. When it comes to containers however, especially if the potting medium used is a chemically inert product like Perlite, it is necessary to ensure that a supply of fertilizer is available to the plants. As fertilizer pumps supply the nutrients via the irrigation system, one is forced to open the taps, even if the plants do not need watering. Baring in mind that Perlite can hold sufficient moisture during the winter for a good 3-4 weeks, it follows that this great water conserving benefit is lost.

It is for this reason amongst others, that I advocate the use of slow release fertilizer as the principle means of feeding pot plants that are grown outdoors. (The hydroponic method applicable to indoor plants requires a different type of fertilizing) There are a number of products available, which release the nutrients over periods of time ranging from 3 to 12 months, thereby reducing labor to a couple of times a year or less. Many brands also contain trace elements, which are generally not lacking in garden soils, but may well be so in the artificial potting media.

My name is Jonathan Ya'akobi.
I've been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984. I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners.
I also teach horticulture to students on training courses. I'd love to help you get the very best from your garden, so you're welcome to visit me on


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