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Strawberry Jars: Killer Pots?

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My lavender is dead.

As the Munchkins put it, “Really most sincerely dead.”

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Some months ago, I wrote about my new plan for this strawberry jar, which had killed a lot of things for me, including strawberries. On the high of hubris, I figured that such water-conserving plants as iris and lavender would, finally, work for this pot, would make it beautiful and lush, would fulfill the dream that every gardener has, of making a little paradise.

I thought, in my happy little saint-of-the-plants fantasies, that I was the one who had finally worked out the terra-cotta-wicking problem to my advantage. That this brilliant solution, which nobody else had thought of before, would bring life where before there had been only death. I thought, in short, that I knew better.

I was wrong.

I might have been warned by the responses on my original post: most people had tales of strawberry-jar woe to relate. There was one benighted person desperate to find a strawberry jar; clearly this was someone who had never planted in one. The only success stories were of succulents, and one comment on success from someone who lives in a much wetter climate than I do.

Which leads us to the question: how did strawberry jars get to be so widely used in dry climates? Every discount store and garden store stocks them; they are featured in garden photos (in my area, most of them come from Mexico, so they are pretty, with incised designs).

And yet, a lot of us can’t grow a damn thing in them.

Was the inventor of strawberry jars a sadist, a misanthrope who saw a perfect opportunity to show gardeners that pride goeth before a fall, and a haughty spirit before destruction? Was it a misphyto, who wanted plants to die before they reached fruition? A purist who believed that plants should be wild and free, not contained? Or is it just one of those inexplicable fads, like pet rocks or back-combed hair, that keep rising time after time to the rhythm of human needs?

Why did I get so determined to make the strawberry jar work for me?

Maybe one of the best things gardening teaches us is that there’s a time to let go, change form; that none of us can mold nature to our will, only work with it. In the northern hemisphere, this time of year really brings that home.

So: everything passes. And, as gardening (and all of nature) remind us, everything rises again.

I’ll try the succulents.

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • tina September 29, 2009, 4:28 pm

    I have hen and chicks and some sedum acre in mine. They do great with no additional watering from me. Maybe the lavender and most plants just can’t spread their roots. I think they might have gotten their start more as an ornamental thing and we all know ornamental things are not always functional.

  • Helen September 30, 2009, 3:36 am

    I suspect that strawberry jars are successful as people assume they work and think what a good idea. Then like you they realise they dont and end up growing succulents in them.

  • Lona September 30, 2009, 8:09 am

    LOL, we all have had our pots that looked like that. Terracotta pots dry out so fast anyway that it takes a lot of care or a plant that loves hot and dry.

  • Genevieve September 30, 2009, 3:42 pm

    I think Fern of Life on the Balcony has a trick for putting a pipe inside them with holes to release water slowly into the soil? And I suppose one could glaze the damn things.

    For me – yes, pots of death except for with succulents. I don’t know why people have such a thing for them. They aren’t really that pretty even!

  • Brent October 1, 2009, 1:00 pm

    And I thought I was the only one who couldn’t make them work! Nothing has ever thrived for me in a strawberry pot, especially starwberries.

    I think I’ll follow your lead with the succulents.

  • Frances October 2, 2009, 9:19 am

    So sorry about that, Pomona. I really thought the lavender should have worked. Sedums and Hens and Chicks will work in them here. I have now put a variegated Yucca filamentosa in the top of mine. Nastursium seeds planted directly into the pockets do well, but are annuals here. Violas will overwinter, but I am planning on little tufts of lemon thyme. Mine is in shade, close to the north side of the house, that might help keep it from drying out so badly. I was thinking of bits of moss too, which grows right in the concrete here on the north sides of things.

    Frances

  • Pomona Belvedere October 2, 2009, 10:07 am

    I was encouraged (in a schadenfreude sort of way) by other stories of strawberry jar fatalities: they make me feel less alone. The pipe thing sounds as if it might work, interesting idea – but I think I’ve done my time fussing with strawberry jars for now and will just succumb to succulents. Yucca filamentosa actually sounds beautiful and might work if I got it established before summer; as for nasturtiums, violas, and moss (what a fabulous idea!), those water-loving things would be dead about one week into our dry hot summers; I bet they’re lovely in more humid places. I figure lemon thyme is in about the same category with lavender and I’ve already proved I can’t grow that in these jars; I like my lemon thyme so I’ll leave it where it is. Those in humid climates might get value out of their strawberry jars with Frances’s beautiful-sounding suggestions.

  • Susie October 2, 2009, 11:22 am

    The only luck I’ve had is with succulents in mine.

  • lostlandscape(James) October 2, 2009, 8:03 pm

    Pomona, have you ever seen a glazed strawberry jar? If such a thing exists it might actually make sense for drier climes. Still, the holes on the side of the root zone look like certain death for whatever’s planted in the top position. The best use for one of these might be as a water feature: Little trickles of water dropping from the different side levels might be a fun sight…

  • Daffodil Planter October 2, 2009, 9:54 pm

    I too have heard the siren song of the strawberry jar, but my laziness has kept me lashed to the mast, resisting. I am very sorry about your poor dead lavender (and what an alarmingly graphic photo) but at least it led to your very clever post. Succulents ho!

  • Pomona Belvedere October 3, 2009, 12:24 pm

    James, great minds work alike: I’d just started thinking that my jars might make a good water feature…DP, this is yet another proof that sometimes what we think is laziness is some divine force trying to save us a lot of trouble.

  • Fern @ Life on the Balcony October 4, 2009, 10:33 pm

    One option is to use a piece of pvc pipe as Gen mentioned. Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl talks about another variation on that theme here.

    I have a strawberry pot now that I have filled with herbs. I’m not using any special watering device, but the shape of the pockets in a strawberry pot really makes a difference. I like ones with staggered pots that angle in to the center of the pot. I try and keep the rootball inside the center column of the pot. The plant eventually develops secondary roots in the dirt of the pocket as well, but it’s easier to keep the plants hydrated if the main roots are in that center column because the water naturally trickles down there. Also, bigger strawberry pots tend to do a better job of keeping the soil moist.

  • Cyd November 2, 2009, 12:56 pm

    I’m sorry about your lavender experiment, it sounded good at the time. I turned my pot into a plant stand for vinca and creeping jennythis year. The best use of it so far.

  • Julie Dennis November 13, 2009, 8:26 am

    What gorgeous photographs I just want to jump in, nestle with the petals and rest awhile there….Much love to you, Julie

  • jamie April 3, 2010, 12:35 pm

    I grow annual begonias in mine. Be mid-summer the pot is covered in little pink flowers. Gorgeous. Keep it in the light shade though.

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