Find answers about Desert Container Gardening and help your flowers thrive!

Mositure meter to measure soil dampness.Potted Desert

Buy a moisture meter at a hardware store, nursery or on Amazon. Check your moisture level regularly every morning before you water by inserting the probe into the soil to the roots level. Newly planted flowers’ roots will be about 4” deep.

Once you get a handle on how much water your pots need, you can follow your set routine.

Be sure to adjust the frequency as temperatures rise and fall.

For more on watering desert pots, click here.


If your soil, aka “potting mix,” does not hold water anymore, i.e., the water drains out quickly and plants wilt, you need to take action. The problem may be that the soil is old and no longer can retain moisture, or the plants have become root bound. In these cases, the potting mix needs to be replaced. 

For pots under 26 inches in width, you probably need to change the entire soil. For larger pots with extensive plantings, you can dig out some of the soil around the top 6 inches of the pot and add fresh potting mix. This is a significant simplification of a somewhat complex subject.


Strictly speaking, a container planting mix has no dirt. Good potting “soil” contains a mixture of peat moss, composted bark, compost, earthworm castings, perlite, and pumice. It smells rich and earthy, never “poopy” or like manure. When you grab a handful, it is moist but does not clump or fall away like sand. Good potting soil is rich with an earthy odor.

I used to use and recommend the brand Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix. In most situations, this is still my go-to choice. However, over the last few years, local nurseries have developed their unique mix, and a trusted nursery should be, well… trusted. Make sure they know you are planting in containers, not in the ground. Understanding the needs of our plants, they have developed these products for the desert climate and high pH value of the water.

Many manufacturers, as well as local nurseries, are adding fertilizer to their mix. I prefer adding my own fertilizers, but if that is your only choice when buying a good brand, so be it.

You will not find these specific soils in a big box store, costing more than many soils they carry. So please spend the money and get the good stuff. It is crucial in creating a good home for your desert potted gardens.


I don’t claim to be an expert on pest control. My offense for all pests and diseases in my potted gardens is using a jet blast with my hose hitting across the plants from about 4 feet away. 

Watch a Video with this link (I have to upload it to Vimeo)

For more info about battling pests in Arizona gardens, click here.


In the pots.

For full sun or mostly sun pots, I strongly recommend pots that are at least 20" wide and about that in height. I prefer starting with 24" pots because you can create a full garden in a single pot and this gives your plants the best environment in our challenging climate.

I also recommend glazed ceramic or double-walled resin pots. This helps the pots to retain moisture.

Watch the "for sale" sites on Facebook and Craig's list to find lower-priced pots. There are many pottery stores in Tucson. I always start with Pottery Blowout on Grant, just west of Alvernon. If you go online first, they may have a coupon, and you can always ask if anything is on sale or a special. Tell them I sent you.

There are pots in all local nurseries and stores on Oracle at Miracle Mile. Quality Pottery is on Nogales Highway and north on Oracle. 

For people outside Pima County, AZ, Google "Garden Pots near me or list your town."

What is the water is not draining to the hole of my pot?

Standing water in a pot could mean that a plants roots are clogging the drainage hole or roots from neighboring landscape plants have come up the hole and block water ability to drain.

Here are the steps I recommend.

  1. Tip the pot over as far as you can. A helper is advised.
  2. Allow excess water to run off the top of the pot.
  3. See if the pot is attached to any ground roots. If so, cut the offending roots.
  4. Take a screwdriver or thin metal rod and push it up the drainage hole. Try to open the hole and assess what is plugging it.
  5. Get the pot up on a couple of bricks and allow it to drain.
  6. If the plants are healthy or appear salvageable, don’t water the pot until the top 6-8” are dry or the plants begin to wilt.

Most likely, you will need to repot them in March or September. When you do, make sure the pots are permanently lifted off the ground to allow for better drainage and to keep neighboring roots from seeking the water.


Place Bricks at the base of plant pot for drainage