Got questions?
Ask Sara!

Send email to


Potting Mix

Once you have chosen your pot, you need to consider the potting soil to use. Garden soil alone is not a good choice because it packs down, forming a dense mass that roots cannot penetrate. There is not a bagged potting soil I've tried that didn't need to be "beefed up" for container plants. It's a good idea to start with bagged soil because then you know you aren't starting with weed seeds. But I get out the wheelbarrow and mix up my own recipe of perlite, vermiculite, coarse bark mulch, and sand with the bagged soil. A couple of handfuls of each plus some composted manure or old compost from the bin and I know I've got a mix that plants will thrive in. What is important is to keep it light and provide all the nutrients the plants need.

I recommend either of the following mixes:

  • 1 part garden loam, 1 part potting mix (store bought) and 1 part perlite.
  • 6 quarts peat moss, 1 quart compost, cup bonemeal, cup 5-3-4 fertilizer, 1 TBS lime, 2 quarts perlite.


For best results when gardening in containers, choose plants that suit your climate, give them the right light, and protect them from strong winds and intense heat and cold. One would think that the long sunny days in New Mexico would be ideal for growing a wonderful container garden. Not so. When I lived there, I had to deal with intense heat, which could burn the plants to a crisp in a matter of hours. Plants need sun, but remember they are sensitive to the intensity of sunlight. Some like full sun all day, some morning sun, some do best in partial shade and others full shade. Think of partial shade as shade under a lacy tree and full shade as building shade or shade under a heavy canopy of leaves. Strong-stemmed plants may not mind harsh wind, but plants like basil have large, soft leaves and need to be protected from strong winds. And it's a good idea to keep plants away from structures that reflect strong heat. Lastly, in the fall, guard against frost by covering your plants or bringing them in. If plants freeze, shift them to a cold, not freezing, spot where there is bright light and let them thaw slowly. They may revive.


Before taking a plant from any nursery container, water the soil thoroughly—moist soil clings to roots, helping to hold the rootball together. To remove a plant from a pot, invert the pot and tap it gently on the bottom. If it doesn't come out, run a knife around the pot's inside edge and try again. Check the root ball after it comes out. If the plant was pot bound, score the roots lightly with a sharp knife, and loosen the roots by teasing them with your fingers. Put a cushion of moist soil mix in the container, enough so that the top of the rootball is about 1" below the pot's rim. Position the plant in the middle of the container and fill in more moist soil mix around the plant's sides, pressing it in firmly so as to plug air holes. Do an initial watering from the top, or put the pot in water and let the soil seep up the moisture. Set the pot in a spot protected from the sun and wind for about a week. The plants should be repotted when you see roots coming out of the bottom drainage holes.