Getting to know your Potting Containers: When a container isn't just a container
When choosing a container for your potted plants there's lots of things to consider. I often find myself making selections based on what I already have in my yard that I can reuse and what will be big enough to for my plant, but there's more to it than that. Container material adds another layer to your yards microclimates and it's something you can use to your advantage to fine tune finding just the right spot/microclimate in your yard. Alternatively, if you are planting in what you have and what you find, (which is what I often do), then knowing the different considerations to make regarding your containers material will help keep your plants happy and healthy.
Brown/Light Colored Plastic:
Benefits: Inexpensive; lightweight; comes in many sizes and shapes; cooler than darker colored pots; usually keeps vertebrate pests out of bottom of pot
Challenges: Cooler than black pots (so that's a benefit, unless you live in a cooler area, or in the winter, and the difference is minimal); not recyclable in most cities, so if they break or when they get old they need to go in the trash if they can't be upcycled for another garden purpose; don't usually provide much insulation or heat protection for new transplants, sensitive plants, or smaller plants
How to use it to increase your microclimates: Overall, great for plants that you might want to move around since they are lightweight; can be reused for many years; great for annual plants that you want to dump and refresh the soil each year/season since they pot itself doesn't add much weight; great for plants that you are worried about getting water logged (as long as they have a drain hole, which is a must!) since the pot itself doesn't retain any water….that also means you need to watch that they don't dry out more often then plants in ground or in other types of pots.
Black/Dark Colored Plastic:
Benefits: Many of the same benefits as above, but can also add that black pots tend to absorb heat and might be good for plants (esp in the cooler seasons) that need a little more warmth, or like warm roots
Challenges: Many of the same drawbacks as the pots above, but will absorb more heat than lighter colored pots so it's important to keep an eye on that during warmer weather
How to use it to increase your microclimates: Again, same benefits as light colored pots, but also can be used to keep plants a little warmer if that is something they benefit from.
Note: The descriptions above fit most pots that you buy plants and trees in at the garden center, but note that those pots are often much thinner than the brown or light colored pots you would buy at the store for planting. The pots' thin plastic doesn't provide much insulation from heat or cold and plants in these pots tend to dry out very quickly. These pots are also not usually recyclable but could be used to start seeds, or could be donated to friends, family, or to a community garden near you that might want to start their own seeds or cuttings.
Wood (sealed gaps/not sealed): If you are thinking about making your own planters, containers, you want to think about the type of wood you are using (treated or not for example) with what type of crops. For ornamental plants that you are not eating it is less crucial that you use untreated wood, but the chemicals in treated wood still might be an area of concern with regards to overall soil contamination (even if it is in small amounts)
Benefits: Nice, natural look; biodegradable; wood absorbs some heat/cool and helps buffer soil temperature; Wood will absorb water and that can help buffer temperature of soil and soil moisture. Some wood pots have their seams and insides sealed and some don't. This will impact how much water is absorbed and how much water leaks out as you water. Note this when getting to know your soil in these types of pots.
Challenges: Often more expensive that plastic pots; can be pretty heavy depending on size and if it's able to absorb water (sealed vs unsealed); biodegradable is also a potential down side, especially if you use it for a perennial plants since pot material will break down over time (some will last for a few seasons, some for many, many years depending on wood type); bottoms will often rot out sooner than sides and burrowing pests like gophers can get into them
How to use it to increase your microclimates: Great foundational pots for your garden if you get bigger ones (like half wine/whisky barrels) or smaller containers can be moved around. Wood can buffer soil temperature and also help keep moisture in. Wooden pots can also absorb water from soil, so whether the pots are sealed or lined will make a difference on that, and you need to get to know how this pot interacts with your soil and plants that you choose for these pots
Benefits: Nice looking pots that often add color and beauty to the garden! Glazed ceramic pots are one of the more expensive options and if you're on a budget, but would like to incorporate this type of pot into your garden, consider using just a few (or even one) to add a pop of color! Can also buffer soil temperatures in cooler areas or times of year; keeps vertebrate pests out of bottom of pot
Challenges: These pots present lots of challenges in San Bernardino County in warmer weather absorbing a lot of heat during warmer months; don't absorb water because the ceramic is sealed, but that also means that they get water logged more easily; many plants that are more herbaceous/tender that will struggle with the radiating heat off this type of pot; these pots are often heavy compared to unglazed ceramic pots.
How to use it to increase your microclimates: Great for a pop of color for your garden! These pots do well with succulents and other plants that can tolerate the radiating heat in the summer. Plants that are more tolerant (or you are willing to carefully water, checking before watering) of some standing water are good choices for these pots.
Metal containers/beds with bottoms: Note that many metal planter beds and containers are insulated with straw or other material to protect plants from over heating on hot days when the metal gets hot. Any liner or insulation you add will have an impact (sometimes negative, sometimes positive) on water absorption, amount of soil you can add, and more, so it's important to do a little research and be observant, looking for plant health issues, or at how quickly the soil dries out.
Benefits: Vertebrate pests will not be able to get through material to get into container (although they still can go over the sides); depending on any insulation you use this might help with buffering soil temperatures, but if soil is in contact with metal temperatures in the soil will fluctuate with outside hot and cold temperatures
Challenges: Metal will get very hot in the summer (and can get very cold in summer); can be challenging to add more drain holes if needed; can be heavy depending on size
How to use it to increase your microclimates: These containers are often used when gardening on cement or other hard surfaces, or areas where planters may be temporary; also useful in areas with lots of gophers or other burrowing vertebrate pests.
Upcycled containers: these can vary widely depending on what type of material you are using and upcycling
Benefits: great to reuse containers, and can end up with lots of creative “yard art”
Challenges: must keep in mind what type of plants you are planting (edible or not) and what materials the upcycled containers are made of, so that you are not exposing yourself to any undesirable chemicals; when in doubt reach out to our Master Gardeners helpline (By phone:(909)387-2182
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out more about the type of container you would like to use!
Lastly, it's important to have drain holes in your pots to keep plants from sitting in standing water. You might need to add drain holes or adjust your watering accordingly to keep plants healthy. A variety of pots in your yard are a great way to get benefits from all these different container types or using one type in your yard will help you keep some things in your garden more constant!
Nancy Mannon became a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener in San Bernardino County 2019 and her love of gardening and nature was immediately apparent, as you will learn below. She's one of those people, like many of our Master Gardeners, where a plant is not just simply a plant; it is art, it is life, it is habitat, and more. Her husband, Gary, became a MG trainee this spring in our virtual class and was all business and engagement! He has a historical garden that he has been put in charge of and he wanted to make sure he educated himself and got the support to do it right. The Mannons are a great example of the diversity of Master Gardener's passions and interests. They highlight how our Master Gardener program (or the garden in general) is a great place for people with diverse perspectives to come together. It's one of the things that makes this program, and our wonderful volunteers, special, and it's a true joy to be part of it. As for the Mannons, they are wonderful, vital stewards of both the history and future of the city of Upland and it's horticultural heritage, and we are so fortunate to have them as part of our Master Gardener team!
-Maggie O'Neill, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator
Why did you decide to be a MG (Master Gardener)?
Gary - I decided to join out of necessity. An organization I am affiliated with put me in charge of a Living
Garden that they own. Partly due to the pandemic, the garden got neglected for a couple of years, and
they wanted me to bring it back to life. I knew nothing about gardening. My wife had previously
graduated from the Master Gardener program. So, she put me in touch with Maggie. I decided to join
the program. The Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers have been a big help in bringing the
garden back to life. And, I'm learning about gardening.
Nancy - I love plants, nature and love to be outside. When I was a young girl, I went to Butchart Gardens
In Canada. I was amazed at all the wonderful design and color of all the flowers and trees in one huge
garden. I have spent most of my time planting flowers and making the outside look beautiful. I wasn't
sure what I was doing but I just kept on planting whatever my heart called me to plant. Gratefully, my
green thumb paid off. So, when I heard about the MG program, I thought I should jump on board and
see what the real experts have to say about gardening.
What are your gardening passions?
Gary - Currently, it is bringing the garden back to life. I haven't been at it long enough to develop a
passion. I'm still playing catch-up, but I want to add plants to make the garden more attractive to
beneficial insects. Working with good people, towards a common goal, is a definite plus!
Nancy - I think of the ground as like a canvas to an artist. You pick the color, texture, and design, and
watch the garden come to life. Mother nature is amazing with all the vibrant colors and intricate designs
of flowers. Being outside with nature, I would definitely say, it is good for the soul. Also, it's fun to be
surprised by pollinators, like butterflies and hummingbirds flying around your yard.
What do you think gardening gives back to our community and why do you think it's important for
overall community health?
Gary - Growing one's own vegetables, fruit and citrus has a healthier, tastier, more satisfying outcome
than purchasing those products in the store. Locally grown products reduce the transportation and
environmental costs associated with importing from other regions or countries.
Nancy - Every home should have a garden, in a perfect world. Especially, in this day and time. It is
almost a necessity to have your own organic food. We have perfect weather here in southern California
to grow food all year long. With the food situation right now, it is more important than ever to have your own garden or a community garden. There is nothing like eating fresh home grown fruits and
Do you have any tips for the community about conserving water in the drought?
Gary - We took advantage of the turf rebate offered by the city and utility company a couple years ago,
and put in drought-tolerant landscaping. Our water bill was reduced by about half. I water in the early
morning so more water has a chance to seep into the ground instead of evaporate.
Nancy - All plants and trees need water, PERIOD!
What is a tidbit or two you've learned as a MG that the public reading our newsletter could gain from?
Gary - The importance of not ignoring our trees during a drought. People cut back on watering their
landscape, and the trees end up suffering. I see so many dry trees. Sure, you can just replant a tree to
replace the one that died, but it will take many years to regain the canopy of the tree you replaced,
which we all benefit from.
Nancy - Fun fact, dirt is not just dirt, it is soil! A teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bugs than there
are people on earth! Mulch vs. Amendments, and list goes on.
What advice would you give someone considering becoming a UCCE MG?
Gary - I think the class is very interesting. The program is part of the University of California
Agriculture and Natural Resources. All their information is research-based. They teach about
horticulture, plant pathology, dealing with weeds and pests, irrigation, and how to analyze your soil. It's
something every homeowner would benefit from early on, and not wait until you retire, like I did.
Nancy - I tell everyone, the Master Gardener program is fun, interesting, educational, and beneficial. Everyone, can learn something to better this planet, and themselves. In this class you meet like-minded people who care about the environment and Mother Nature.
- Author: Deborah Schnur
For the first time in three years, the California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference was held in-person this past September. Ventura County, with its rich agricultural heritage, was the perfect location for the conference to make its comeback. Growing up on the beaches of Long Island, New York, I was excited to attend the conference and spend some time by the shore. The conference agenda was filled with opportunities to learn and network through tours, presentations, exhibits, workshops, and discussions. Best of all, I returned home with three full bags of materials to use for school and environmental education.
Pre-Conference Tour and Reception
My second favorite part of the tour was walking through Air Force One and seeing how it was used during Reagan's time. The plane was retired after Reagan left office and moved to the site of the Library, where the building was constructed around it. The Air Force One Pavilion also houses vehicles from the presidential motorcade.
After the tour, I returned to the hotel for conference registration and a reception with Maureen McGuire,CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. I also took some time to network with exhibitors including the California Farm Bureau, California Women for Agriculture,Ventura County Farm to School, Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture (SEEAG), and the Ventura County Agricultural Museum.
The last speaker was Christine Birdsong, the Undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, who emphasized the importance of agricultural literacy for students and teachers. Because California has about 24 million acres of agricultural land and $20 billion in agricultural exports, the state's economic health is closely tied to agriculture. Agriculture is a growing career field that increasingly relies on technology, and a diverse group of young farmers is needed to replace those who are retiring.
The opening session was followed by two workshop sessions. The first workshop I attended was “Youth Can Run a School Garden Program”, presented by Abbi Mars of UC CalFresh Healthy Living and students from Arthur Hapgood Elementary in Lompoc. I was inspired to hear how fifth and sixth grade students run all aspects of the school garden and teach younger students about gardening and nutrition. The student leaders rotate through different teams to learn about composting, fruit tree care, hydroponics, harvesting, and teaching. At the end of the workshop, the students gave a demonstration of the “Pest or Pal?” lesson from the CalFresh TWIGS (Teams with Intergenerational Support) curriculum.
My second workshop was “Bringing Gardening into the Classroom”, led by Veronica VanCleave-Hunt of CalFresh Healthy Living. She and her colleague presented three TWIGS garden lessons that can be taught in the classroom without a garden. The first lesson was “Seed Magic” where students dissect a seed and identify the parts. The workshop attendees received lima bean seeds that had been soaked in water and were instructed to remove the seed coat and identify the leaves, root, and cotyledon (food source). Who knew a simple seed could be so interesting?
The second lesson was “Soil” where we used our senses to observe the soil components of sand, silt, and clay. Then we learned how to conduct a soil test by mixing a soil sample with water in a jar and watching the layers separate. The final lesson was “Eat Your Plants” about how food can come from all plant parts: roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds. The workshop instructors passed around bags, and the attendees tried to identify the fruit or vegetable inside and the plant part.
After the workshops, we were treated to a hearty lunch and an engaging talk from Coach Kiah Twisselman Burchett, “Grow Through It: Blooming Through Hardship”. Coach Kiah is a cattle rancher turned motivational speaker who shares her triumphs and struggles with body image and weight loss to empower others to find joy in life.
Field Trips and Taste of California Dinner
The day ended with the Taste of California at the Ventura County Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula. Each of the 13 tables was decorated according to a theme by a host organization. Hosts ranged from the Santa Paula High School Ag Department to the California Farmland Trust. I opted for the “CA Central Coast Cornucopia of Freshness” table hosted by the California Women for Agriculture, Ventura County. After a welcome from Shannon Douglass of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, Coach Kiah took the reins as the emcee for some table games. At the end of the night, I filled a bag with take-home gifts of seeds, citrus, trail mix, and local Blue Ridge honey from my table host.
After the panel were the Make ‘n Takes, 20-minute activities to share with students. During the Beads and Books session, I made a daisy beaded bookmark from natural materials. From the Orange You Glad We Have Farmland? session, I learned the percentage of land available to grow food for the world–only 3 percent! The MyPlate Nutrition activity demonstrated ways to introduce the five food groups to students and help them list foods in each group.
I was sad to see the California Ag in the Classroom Conference come to an end but happy to spend a few hours on the beach before heading home. Next year, I look forward to attending the state conference again and maybe even the national conference in Orlando! If you're involved in agriculture education, I highly recommend checking out the resources that Ag in the Clasroom offers at https://learnaboutag.org and https://agclassroom.org.
Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions? Need help with school gardens or environmental education? If so, send an email to email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
School and Community Garden Collaborative Quarterly Workshop was on the 17th and it was great! Did you miss it? Check out the recordings here:
Full workshop link: https://youtu.be/lhAb1Q5LF40
Building your Soil presentation: https://youtu.be/YKq-pV_ppY8
FIG (Friendly Inclusive Gardening) presentation with Stephen Cantu: https://youtu.be/3NjLW07X_qs
Seed Library in Every Community Short Introduction (Check this one out if you want to see a new program we are offering to the public, and email me if you want to be involved!): https://youtu.be/8drCIzytibM
Join us for this quarters School and Community Garden Collaborative Workshop! We are getting into our second year hosting this collaborative here in San Bernardino County and it's been great to watch it grow! There are many people throughout our large county working on school and community gardens and we wanted a way to bring them together to discuss ideas, brainstorm challenges and share success. Over the last year we have featured some amazing school garden projects and highlighted some really innovative community gardens.
This quarters workshop will feature a UCCE Master Gardener from San Diego, Stephen Cantu, who has done some amazing work in the area of accessible gardening for all. After living for many years with a mobility limiting injury, he developed what he calls the FIG program, or Friendly, Inclusive Gardening Program. Research has shown that access to gardening is so important for physical, emotional, and mental health. We want everyone to have access to gardening and Stephen Cantu will join us to talk about how to make that happen!
Our Master Gardeners will be rolling out our “Seed Library in Every Community” project to support schools and community gardens who want to start a seed library for their students and community members. In addition to just having a supply of seeds at your site we will also teach the community all about seed harvesting, cleaning, storing, and seed starting.
We will also be hearing from one of our partners and supporters, including IERCD (Inland Empire Resource Conservation District) about all the great things they are doing in the community. Save the date for our next workshop on Jan 21st! Register below! It is open to all whether currently involved in a school or community garden or just interested in perhaps doing so! Also feel free to join and share upcoming events and activities at your community or school garden!
This month's UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Spotlight is on volunteer Carolyn Paul. Since I first met Carolyn, when she went through the program in 2019, it was clear that she looked at gardening and all its benefits with a holistic view. She sees the beauty in the flowers and trees, but doesn't forget that actually interacting with the garden is half the fun and benefit of gardening! When Master Gardeners were starting the compost project at the Root 66 Garden in Rancho Cucamonga (read here to learn more about that great project https://ucanr.edu/b/~B3D) Carolyn jumped right in to help get that project started by helping to build the boxes, turning the compost and more! She has also worked extensively with both our School and Community Garden committees, helping to organize the outreach and support that the Master Gardeners provide to the public so that youth, adults, and families can all maximize the benefits of gardening. Carolyn's insight on how to connect the Master Gardeners to the community has been an invaluable contribution to our program and San Bernardino County as a whole. She gardens with heart, and takes the time to share that enthusiasm, imparting her wisdom on the benefits of gardening with the community every chance she gets. To hear more about her love of gardening and her thoughts on the benefits of gardening, read more from Carolyn in her own words below.
-Maggie O'Neill, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator
Why did you decide to be a MG? I grew up gardening with my parents and grandparents. And when I started my own family, we all have gardened together. So, gardening for me has been a social experience, one filled with fond memories. So in wanting to volunteer, I thought that Master Gardeners would provide a similar social environment where we could all enjoy one another's company and learn from it!
What are your gardening passions? For many years I've grown flowers of all colors and fragrances. Thanks to Master Gardeners, however, I've expanded my love of colors and fragrances in my yards to drought tolerant plants. So now both of our yards have Grevilleas, Lions' Tails, white Lantana, Fairy Dusters, and Hot Lip Sage. They need much less water to stay green and bloom than my flowers.
What do you think gardening gives back to our community and why do you think it's important for overall community health? I think that gardening has the potential to benefit everyone! As individuals we can gain a sense of well-being and accomplishment from it, as well as take advantage of the exercise that it offers. Since we heavily rely upon many technologies in our daily lives, it can be helpful to get outdoors and see how good that connecting with nature can make us feel, physically and psychologically. And gardening can bring people together in a number of positive ways. It can lead to neighbors sharing cuttings and other items from their yards. Most importantly our Master Gardener classes and events
not only provide information to the communities that we serve, but they can also facilitate new friendships and partnerships along the way.
Do you have any tips for the community about conserving water in the drought? Since being a Master Garderner, I've come to better understand the need for water conversation and how my family and I can contribute to it in caring for our yards. We have replaced some of our older, water-thirsty plants with drought tolerant ones. We've mulched wherever we could. And we now have the front and back yards on a watering schedule. On June 1st our local water district required that our city start mandated water rationing. Watering outside is now confined to one day a week for sprinkler watering above ground. Underground watering systems and hand watering are not confined to a specific number of days, but each residence and business has been given a monthly table to follow based upon our previous 2020 total water usage. For each month, we are allotted a portion of this past usage for both indoor and outdoor watering. This has not been easy, since we had to make changes in our use of water inside the house to make certain that we have sufficient water for all our trees and plants. We also removed our pool in order to balance our indoor and outdoor water needs, and to manage the increasing cost of our water.
What is a tidbit or two you've learned as a MG that the public reading our newsletter could gain from? I've learned many, many things from the Master Gardener program. But what stands out the most for me is becoming serious about the close connection our gardening habits have with the climate changes that we are now living with, coupled with the need to be flexible and creative in how we care and nurture our landscape that is threatened by these serious changes. Master Gardeners are important in educating our local communities on how to adapt to climate changes in positive, optimistic ways.
What advice would you give someone considering becoming a UCCE MG? During one of my MG training meetings, I won a copy of the book Biophilia written by Edward O. Wilson! It was enriching to read and confirmed my decision to join Master Gardeners, so I would briefly talk about its message with anyone thinking about being a Master Gardener, since it describes our human bond with other living things, which can easily be ignored: “………to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves.” (Prologue, Biophilia (1984).