Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rose Hugel Pot

My 3 container roses have never done very well in the 5+ years we've had them.

Watering has always been too much a responsibility for me, so they were put on an automatic drip system. However the problem is that the mix would get wet right underneath the drip emitters, 5 of them per pot, but just an inch away from the emitter the mix would be dry. And since it was a peat based mix (50% peat, 50% lava rocks or turface), most of the mix would become hydrophobic and stay that way all summer.

The roses would do ok, but clearly stressed.

This year I decided to make them into hugel pots after seeing how well my eggplants did in a stump pot (see post:

Here are the 3 dormant roses to be repotted.

After taking the roses out and throwing away all the peat based mix, I drilled many small holes in each pot bottom. This isn't for better drainage, it is for better bottom root aeration. This is a critical aspect for a hugel pot.

Next I put in about 3-4" of compost in the bottom of the pots. You want the roots to mat up right at the bottom of the pot over the aeration holes. Here the roots will be kept wet and well-ventilated.

Then I put in wood from a split stump. Must be vertical to be effective. Water will be absorbed into the top of the wood and then slowly released out the bottom. So roots that form at the bottom of the pot will receive a slow water drip that should also have nutrients in it from the wood and any fertilizer you add.

Compost is from a playground wood chips that has decayed over 10 years. No peat to avoid hydrophobic issues. Root-pruned rose goes on top.

Pots are placed in bricks, so air can flow underneath

The yellow clump is a corn meal-based kitty litter urine clump.  I'm going to use these as the only fertilizer for a couple of the roses to see how it does. They will be watered in (broken up) after being added. This should deter rabbits also.

Looking forward to seeing how this does.
Hopefully it will cut down on the frequency watering is needed and when I do forget to water and it dries out, it will be easy to water it again without hydrophobic issues.

Late June I'll post an update and at the end of the season I'll take the rose out of the pot for pictures on how the roots are doing.


  1. Can't wait to see the results! Thanks for thinking 'outside the box' :)

  2. Great writeup of an interesting concept, thanks!

  3. Just found your blog. Love it. I'm curious to know how the kitty litter clumps worked out? I am looking forward to trying the hugel pot, really! I think it would be great for blueberries too...they need so much decayed wood. I live in a very, very hot and dry climate, El Paso, Texas. Do you think the pots would work here. I actually do want to do a whole row as well. Thanks for Sharing, Patty in El Paso

    1. Kitty litter clumps worked out great. Unfortunately my cat learned to go outside, so now I just pour human liquid fertilizer instead. Seems to work well also.

  4. From Strawberryhill in Organic Roses Forum: Thank you, GardenSeek, for posting "Rose Hugel Update" in Organic Roses Forum. You helped me a lot... much appreciated. I have rock hard clay. You are right about clay benefits from wood chips. University of Colorado recommends using fibrous, woody materials to aerate clay. My best blooming roses were fixed with 1/3 pine bark (pH 4.5) to lower my alkaline clay (pH 7.7). The worst performers were fixed with peat moss... that glued up with clay to make cement. Fine particles like alfalfa meal glued up with clay even more. So LARGE particles like wood chips is best to separate clay, so it doesn't become glue.

    Thank you so much for the work you put in your experiments. I wish I had seen your blog earlier ... almost ripped my arms off carrying buckets of glue-up clay from my mixing peatmoss in the planting hole (bad idea !!).

    1. The wood chips seem to attract a lot of earthworms also.
      This makes a big difference in aeration. When digging out clumps of dirt now, they look like Swiss cheese with all the worm tunnels.

  5. Just found your blog. Really like it. Love your experimental technique. The upright logs makes me want to dig up my hugel bed and relay it. It also motivates me to try my idea of tying stick bundles together and burying them in upright for times when I need to deep water the garden.

    My question, the kitty litter technique. I am neither familiar with that technique or the nuances of kitty litter; never owned a cat...or had a cat own me, if I'm to guess. How does it work? I'm assuming that the nitrogen is slowly released from the clump. Does it happen when water hits it? How long does a clump last? Does the litter itself become a problem? Your cat goes outside now; have you considered peeing on some? Thanks.

    1. The N in urine can usually be lost as NH3 very quickly if the pH isn't low enough.

  6. One more question, have you thought about adding earthworms to the pots?

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