I'm always looking for ways to save time in the garden.
And watering and weeding are two of the biggest demands on a gardener's time.
If you spent less time on those two chores, it would leave more time for real gardening: cutting flowers, harvesting groceries, dividing plants that you want more of and kicking back and just looking around at your wonderful garden.
Some garden writers advocate using containers as a way to reduce garden chores, but by adding pots and window boxes, you could actually increase the amount of time spent watering. Why? Because plants' roots dry out faster in a container--there's just so much less space available for storing water than in a big ol' garden.
You could be watering containers every day or two during a summer heat wave.
And weed seeds can fly on the wind to land in containers where they find the expensive potting soil you bought to be a very attractive spot to germinate, grow, flower and set seed--unless you snag 'em and kick 'em to the curb before they get too big.
I've got nothing against pots, but I do have something against unnecessary work. That's why I use mulch in all our containers and window boxes. The idea of mulching a garden bed to hold moisture and keep down weeds has become more common (tho too many beds go wanting). No reason not to adopt the same practice when it comes to containers.
We even use mulch in containers for house plants. No reason not to save time there too.
Here's a photo of a container I threw together one day for a downtown thrift store. They're no longer in business, but I hope someone is still enjoying this container made from a tire from a racing car, with a mulch of brick chips.
Here's a container with a dwarf citrus tree mulched with Mexican beach pebbles. This kind of mulch is not cheap, but you get your money's worth here, as the pebbles are highly visible and you don't need large quantities.
Here's another potted dwarf citrus tree with pebbles of a different color, that I've turned on edge for a different look. I used to water my four citrus trees about once a week. With the mulches I now water them about every two weeks.
And you can save your money by using whatever materials are plentiful to make a mulch. Here, Chris used the cups from acorns to mulch a potted pansy. Next spring I may use the oak flowers that clog the rain gutters as a mulch in containers.
Don't get the wrong idea here, (okay, maybe you're getting the right idea) but I've used corks from wine bottles to mulch this ficus tree in our house. Yes, many of the corks are generated in-house, but most of them come from a restaurant that saves corks for me.
Originally I had just been tossing them into the pot, but the helter-skelter look left something to be desired. I started standing them up for a more attractive look. I used to water this ficus once a week, but now that the potting soil is completely covered with a wine cork mulch, it gets watered about once a month.
Your favorite restaurant will probably save corks for you if you come by to pick them up every-so-often. It's a shame for good organic material like corks to end up in the landfill.
In other pots we've used more conventional mulches--pine bark, shredded hardwood bark, gravel, shredded tree leaves, cocoa husks, etc. The pine bark tends to float away when you water--which even if you're watering less often, the clean up adds to the work load, so we don't use that anymore, but the others are stable. And they do reduce the amount of watering and weeding.
And if chosen well, the mulch adds something visually attractive and can be cost effective.
So get your containers mulched before summer really sets in and use the time you save for whatever your favorite gardening tasks might be. Or use the saved time to generate more cork mulch!