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Posted:  22 Apr 2012 02:35  
I have a client who wants exterior containers but does not want to purchase  ireservoirs for the inside of containers. He or his staff will not water everyday if necessary. Is there anyway to keep the soil moist for a few days and maintain adequate drainage. Thanks
Posted:  22 Apr 2012 03:00  
Assuming these containers are of a fairly large size - 24" or more, I'd use a soil mix with a good amount of peat in it.  Pro-Mix BX for example has a sphagnum peat moss content of about 80-85% by volume, and enough perlite and vermiculite for decent drainage.

If the client's not going to water the planters every day if necessary, tell them to water them deep when they DO water.  A cat's lick and a promise just won't do in that situation.

Using a non-porous container will help too.
Posted:  22 Apr 2012 19:02  
There is no substitute for educated, regular irrigation of exterior plantings.  Variations in weather and microclimates even around a single building require judgment and diligence.  That said, building managers who do not have budget for professional ongoing care of container plantings can be helped in a few ways that are relatively inexpensive:

1. Use a medium that contains a commercial product like SoilMoist or Terrasorb polyacrylamide gel that will hold onto free moisture and release it as the medium begins to dry.  This will enable extended periods between waterings.  However, it will not make plantings immune from drought, because someone will still need to water regularly during periods of no rain, just not as often.

2. Be careful of using media that are over 80% peat moss.  When the fibers of peat dry out, they actually become water-repellent, and they are nearly impossible to re-hydrate without using a wetting agent. 

3. Mulch heavily...two to three inches of a good, clean cedar mulch will help retain moisture by reducing evaporation and cooling the roots so plants aren't stressed...cedar also helps repel many pests.

4. Use of xerophytic (drought-loving) plants can significantly reduce watering requirements, although the aesthetic palette will be somewhat limited.  Succulents, grasses, prairie-type perennials and some annuals like Portulaca and Pelargonium ("geranium") are all adapted to grow and bloom well under dry conditions should maintenance be spotty.

The bottom line is that your client must be made to understand that there are always trade-offs when balancing cost with benefit.  They cannot expect lush, perfect plantings if they aren't willing to invest in proper care during the growing season, unless they are flexible about the kinds of plants that can be supported on a shoestring budget.

Clem
Posted:  22 Apr 2012 21:41  
Did you actually proposed a MONA (MPS) system and they rejected it?
It certainly will solve your problem.

Rick W
Posted:  03 Jun 2012 06:03  
A very difficult situation, and difficult client.  The kind it's often more economical to do without.  All the above suggestions are excellent, if you're stuck with the situation.  I can think of another possibility, if it's possible to rework the contr's...in other words, if they're not built-in concrete, or some such.  If it's possible, seal the bottom drainage, then drill some holes into the sides, large enough to be plugged with corks, a couple near the bottom, and a couple somewhat higher, depending on the size of the cont'r.  Then, if there's alot of rain, you can pull the appropriate plugs and let out the extra water; if there's no rain, the plants can be watered enough to hold them for a week, or whatever interval your visits are.  If you're not making regular service visits, be very specific with watering instructions to the owner, i.e.tell them exactly how long to run the hose on the containers.  But if you're not making some kind of regular service visits, for sure those planters are gonna die anyway, so I hope you can convince the client that if they can't invest in service, they'd be better off not wasting their money on plants at all.  Good luck.

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