Q: Should I put a piece of broken pottery or stones in the bottom of every pot or container I’m planting? What about in window boxes?
A: Yes! There are several reasons you need something to cover the drainage hole in the bottom of any container. One is to keep the soil from running out every time you water, which is unattractive on your deck, and wastes the soil as well. Another is to assure drainage and make sure the soil doesn’t clog the drainage hole. Pot shards are fine, or use gravel or stone if available. Or borrow an old trick from the people who grow bonsai, those little trees that must have proper drainage: Use a piece of wire window screen — save the pieces of torn screen that you are replacing, or ask your repairman to save you some screen scraps. Unlike added stone, screen is weightless and can be easily cut to fit the bottom of odd-sized pots and window boxes. Another option is using a disposable drip coffee pot filter over the drain hole. Filters are relatively inexpensive and they’ll last through a season or two. The porous paper filter allows water to slowly drip out of the pot, keeps soil in the pot where it belongs, keeps bugs from crawling into the pot, weighs nothing and is biodegradable.
Q: I received a beautiful hydrangea plant for Easter, which was bought from a local florist, and was told I could plant it outside. I know there are species that are sold this time of year that are not hardy. Is there some way I can tell if this is a hardy outdoor plant?
A: Since I don’t know exactly what the florist sold you, I will take a chance and answer with some generalities: Most florist hydrangeas are “cautiously hardy” in this zone and can be planted in your garden. But please remember that these gift plants were forced into bloom for this holiday. They were grown in greenhouses with controlled heat, humidity, water and light, and were fed lots of fertilizers. Once they have overcome the forcing and acclimatized themselves to our climate, most can be grown outdoors very successfully.
As the weather gets warmer, slowly acclimate your plant to the outdoors. Gradually take the potted plant outdoors, and place it in an area of partial sun, watering it regularly. Take it indoors if the nights are cold — remember, this was a greenhouse plant. Plant it in its permanent place in the garden after adjustment; this should be a place where it will get filtered sun — not hot sun — and plenty of water. Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help prevent water loss, but plan to water a new hydrangea daily in dry weather. Well-amended soil and an extra-large planting hole are helpful. Gently loosen the soil in the pot as you plant if the plant seems pot-bound. After planting, treat your new plant like an established plant. Remember, no pruning for hydrangeas except immediately after flowering. And over the winter, the new plant may need protection during sub-zero winter days.
I have four to five large hydrangea bushes that all came from cuttings of one Easter hydrangea plant, which was bought at a supermarket many years ago. I know your hydrangea planting will be very successful, and you’ll have pleasant memories of the donor every year when it blooms.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.