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Strawberry Jars – Not Just for Strawberries

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In my case, that title should read, Never For Strawberries. For growing strawberries in strawberry pots in my area poses several problems.

First of all, in our hot, dry, rainless summers, any fair-sized terracotta pot can dry out, killing the contents, in the course of a single relentless sunny day. A largish terracotta pot, like a strawberry jar, might take two. Those of us who tend to be distracted by things in life other than gardening learn this the hard way.

The first year I got my strawberry pots, I innocently put strawberries in them. Since I have very few garden spots involving full sun (my second strawberry pot problem), I used alpine strawberries, white alpine strawberries to be precise, which I got from a specialist catalogue at a very special price. They were alpine strawberries with runners (most alpine strawberies don’t have them), which appealed to me: I could propagate more, because at this price, I wasn’t going to be able to afford to buy them.

The first year I put strawberries in the strawberry pot, the plants in the bottom of the pot went dead after a few weeks. I realized this was because watering from the top meant that the water either evaporated or ran out the side holes before it got to the bottom.

I regrouped. I set up my simplest bottom-watering system, which is to put the pot in a plastic bulb bowl – with the plug still in the hole, so the bowl holds water. This way , the plant has a reservoir of water to draw on, and, in the case of terracotta, the pot itself wicks up some of the water, so it’s a little less porous (read: liable to dry out the soil).

This time, the bottom plants did well, and the top ones died. Same problem, only in reverse. I did try watering from the top and using the bottom-watering system as well, but this was tiresome, and I never did get any strawberries.

I planted the strawberries somewhere else, and retired the strawberry pot. A year or two later, I was overwhelmed with my usual fall influx of spring bulbs. I thought: I’ll just use this strawberry pot as a bulb pot. After all, I don’t water them; they like to be dry in summer. And the terracotta will ensure they get drainage.

So in went my antique maroon-dark Philippe do Comines tulips at the top; in the side pockets went tiny, early-blooming Iris danfordiae.

And for a few years, all was sort of well. The I. danfordiae bloomed the first year, but needed replacing in each coming year, so while they accepted the strawberry pot, they weren’t exactly happy there.

The Philippe de Comines bloomed for a couple of years, then went blind. (On reviewing this post, it came to me that I should explain this. My tulips did not look at an eclipse or a Day of the Triffids meteor shower and suddenly become unable to see: what happened was that they continued to put up single spears of leaves, but didn’t bloom. That’s how bulbs go blind.) When I finally dug them up, they had split into many tiny bulbs, ready to be grown in a bigger space, so they could mature and bloom. They had always looked a little short for the tall strawberry pot, anyway.

I transplanted Philippe de Comines into other containers. That left the strawberry jar empty. Where it sat until recently, when I was in dire need of transplanting one of my lavenders.

Looking around for pots – if there were a portrait of me as a gardener, it would be me looking around for pots, preferably in a noble pose, like stout Cortez and his companions, viewing the ocean and each other with wild surmise* – looking around for pots, I spied the strawberry pot. Empty.

I had to peel back the root layers from my lavender; it really had gotten awfully  potbound, and the pot it was in was wider than the strawberry pot. But much shallower, I reasoned to myself (or perhaps to the lavender). The strawberry pot would give the lavender more root room, and after the radical cutting back I’d given it on top, I expected great things. Since it’s one of the more compact lavenders (knee-high ‘Rosea’, with pink flowers – really mauve in my climate and soil), the proportions should be right for the strawberry pot when it grows out. At least that’s the vision.

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But what about the side pockets? While cleaning up in another large container, I was inspired: here was one of the places I’d dumped my little bearded iris roots. Since I hadn’t had a place for them last fall, I just slipped them into any container that had a spare slice of room. They weren’t doing very well, because they didn’t have much sun in those crowded conditions. They were alive, though, which had been the point of the exercise.

Now I thought: what about putting them in the side pockets of that strawberry jar? Bearded iris don’t like being buried deep; they actually prefer to be partly out of the soil, so they’ll be all right in there (soil tends to settle and sift from the pockets, leaving the roots of whatever’s in them exposed). Neither one of them has to have water to barely survive, so an occasional summer watering would probably keep them in decent shape. And the combination might look cool in that pot, grey-greens against dark terracotta.

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So that’s where I put them. The iris and lavender are waiting: will they be the final epoch of my strawberry pot? Or will it need renewal next year?

Next post: about those alpine strawberries and what happened to them

* leaving out the mass murder bits. For those of my readers who know Cortez only from Keats, his progress through the Americas was marked by the kind of slaughter, torture, and lies that the Nazis (or some previous U.S. governments) could have taken pride in.

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • tina March 23, 2009, 2:14 pm

    These pose a problem for me. I planted sedum in mine. They all do well. But first I put a long hard cardboard tube in the center with holes drilled in it. This way I could fill this tube and the water would trickle into the plants. However, sedum seldom needs watering so it has worked. I think the lavender looks great in there.

  • Daffodil Planter March 23, 2009, 9:00 pm

    The most charming of garden containers, and a charming piece of prose to go with it!

  • Melanthia March 23, 2009, 11:30 pm

    Great reuse of the pot. I think it looks nice. I like the image of the searching for pots. I do that a lot in our garage, usually doing several circles before giving up and starting another project.

  • Titania March 24, 2009, 3:18 am

    My strawberries have never take to the strawberry pots. They showed a real aversion against them. I think it is a bit a myth to plant the strawberries into those pots. They look so pretty and in my imagination I saw the ripe berries nestling lusciously between the healthy looking foliage. All dreams…out they went into the garden beds. The pots, sigh… are still haunting me!

  • Frances March 24, 2009, 3:19 am

    Hi Pomona, loved this piece. It is a little discouraging though because I have ordered Alpine strawberries for my strawberry jar! But it is glazed so maybe they will live if not thrive in it. Like Tina I have planted sedums in the past, and nastursium seeds last year which did exceedingly well, the Alaska variety with variegated leaves. The pot is blue. I will anxiously await your strawberry post!
    Frances

  • Sylvia (England) March 24, 2009, 5:43 am

    Lovely pot Pomona, I like the cup shape of the side holes. The only strawberry pots I have seen don’t have the cups, so they are even worse. At least your pot looks attractive. I wonder if there is anyone in the world who has managed to keep strawberrys in pots like these for very long, let alone get them to fruit.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Cyd March 24, 2009, 6:36 am

    I like Titania had visions of strawberries dangling from the little cups. I found an old pot at a garage sale last year and filled it with strawberry plants. I did get one fruit. I left the pot out all winter and they are still alive. It is too early to tell if they will like it .

  • Pomona Belvedere March 24, 2009, 11:16 am

    Very interesting to hear I’m not the only one with this experience in strawberry pots! Tina, I like your sedum idea, that sounds great, especially the drapey ones would look nice. And I also like your water-tube idea; might work with some PVC pipe, too. It would certainly open up the possibilities for a strawberry pot. Maybe the tube thing would work for growing strawberries in your glazed pot, Frances? And the nasturtium idea is nice – but nasturtiums are water hogs, so I don’t know if that would work for my climate.

    Titania, I have shared your dreams of luscious strawberries and had them (and the strawberries) blasted. I hope some of the suggestions here might bring your strawberry pots to life again. It seems that since these ARE called strawberry pots they would work in some climate for actual strawberries – but who knows. I do think the fact that my climate is so dry probably has something to do with my failure to grow strawberries in them. If as Sylvia says some have no lip on their side pockets I don’t know how that would be doable in any climate.

    I’ll be interested to hear the fate of your strawberries, Cyd, and oh mercy, Melanthia, I’m glad I’m not the only one who wanders around in circles looking for pots to plant in, as if they’re going to spring out of the ground or something.

  • Bernadette Kessler April 29, 2009, 5:40 am

    I am in desperate need to find this type of strawberry pot.
    Where did you find it? Can you give me a name of a company that I can order one? Please answer.

  • Pomona Belvedere April 29, 2009, 8:34 am

    I’ve never found these pots other than locally – I imagine they’re too heavy to ship on a one-by-one basis. I suggest you go to any fairly large nursery (I think I got one of mine from the nursery contained in my local hardware store, and one from a local discount store which stocks some plant pots occasionally). Or save the steps and call places like this asking for strawberry jars. I’m not sure where you live; that could be a factor.

    I’d be curious to know what you want to use this kind of planter for.

  • cyd April 29, 2009, 2:31 pm

    I would be happy to give Bernadette my pot. Pomona you were right, these do not work well for strawberries. I’m liking the lavender idea. Maybe succulents? I too am curious what Bernadette will use this for.

  • Bernadette Kessler May 6, 2009, 10:19 am

    I would really appreciate your pot. E-mail to me on how I can get it from you. I want to use it for hens & chick plants.
    Thank you-
    Bernadette /kessfam@hughes.net

  • Kerry September 30, 2009, 4:59 pm

    I have put hens and chicks in strawberry pots as well as coleus and ivy. I have a red glazed strawberry jar that I got at a yard sale because it had a hole in the bottom. The hole just adds drainage. I love it with herbs too.

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