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Aug 1, 2011
Dealing with drainage
Erin Etheridge  Burpee Home Gardens Guest Blogger

“Something’s rotten in Denmark!” I said to myself as one of my plant’s containers busted open, spewing putrid water and stinky dirt, because nothing will ever change the fact that I was an English major in college.

So in my last post I established myself as an amateur tomato-plant immunologist, but it turns out I’m still just an intern. My plants began to thrive again after I pruned the withered bits and treated them with fungicide to combat Early Blight. We’ve been enjoying fruit from all of them. All but one.


After a couple days of summer downpours, the problem was evident: drainage. Or really, lack of drainage. On top of one particular pot—and one of the smaller pots with my basil—the soil was so oversaturated that water pooled. After just a day, the plant was drowning.

In a situation like this, it’s only natural to ask why. To blame yourself. You can do everything right, raise your plants in the same loving and attentive environment, but at the end of the day, they do their own thing. Sometimes the mistakes just aren’t your fault. I’m a good parent, er, gardener. I know that. It’s just hard to believe it when you see one of your precious plants, a plant you have nurtured since it was just a seedling, floundering. Literally.

The container had a built-in water catch; additionally, I added some rocks to the bottom of the pot. I used vegetable gardening mix and my own compost for planting. I topped it with hardwood mulch. Even so, the water would not drain.

I knew something drastic had to be done. I thought about drilling additional holes in the bottom of the container, but my brother-in-law has our drill. So I upped the ante. I replanted it…in the ground.

We have plans to do some raised beds on a gently sloping hillside in our backyard for next year—perfect, built-in drainage, I thought. So why not go ahead and try now? I grabbed a shovel and the hose (to moisten the ground and make it easier to dig), and I got to work. As I was digging, I couldn’t help but think of all the graves characters on "Lost" had to dig on the beach, and how it must have taken them a really freakin’ long time, because digging a hole isn’t as easy as you’d think.

When I finally went to retrieve the sodden (or sodding, if you’d prefer) plant from the deck, that’s when the water pressure busted the side open like an overfull water balloon.

Guys, it was stinky. S T I N K Y.

I dragged the remains to the hole I’d dug (oh gosh, that sounded incriminating), mixed some good soil in with our sandy soil, and replanted the ailing tomato shrub. I know it’s risky, particularly since the plant is full-grown and already bearing fruit, but what choice did I have? I was on the verge of losing it anyway.

The transplant is done. Now only time will tell how this will all turn out.

Reader Comments (3)
Your tomato looks just like mine.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011 | Beth Heidel
Have a look at Bob Hyland's website on sub irrigation planters (SIP) and then you might reconsider having holes in the bottom of your pots all together. I converted over 50 of my vegetable containers in the spring to SIP systems and as far as I am concerned I will never drill another hole in the bottom of a planter again.

Bob Hyland

My flickr site:

Monday, August 15, 2011 | Johanne Daoust
Ya, it depends on how you put it in place.
Monday, September 26, 2011 | Hindi Recipes
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