Pima County's 'tall pots' seeding faster growth, saving money

2011-08-08T00:00:00Z 2011-08-08T06:58:10Z Pima County's 'tall pots' seeding faster growth, saving moneyStephen Varga For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 08, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Everyone's heard the saying "Bigger is better." Bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger everything. But bigger flowerpots? That's a new one Pima County is trying on for size.

The Pima County Parks and Recreation Department has started using "tall pots" to grow its trees - 30-inch- long segments of 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe with wire mesh on the bottom. The pots originated in Maricopa County and were brought to Tucson last year.

Basically the Yao Mings of the flowerpot world, the tall pots are designed for roots to grow downward as they would in nature, as opposed to traditional pots in which plants grow outward.

Trees can reach moisture embedded deep under the soil's surface much easier if their roots grow down rather than out, where they can get tangled and snarled, Parks and Recreation Director Rafael Payan said. Snarled taproots can spell disaster for trees in this area, and county officials hope tall pots can prevent this twisted trouble.

The pots can save the county time and money by using less soil and requiring less water and weeding. They cost about a dollar to produce, though the amount of savings on water won't be known for a year or two, Payan said.

Another bonus is that plants can be ready for transplanting in three months, much less than the 18 months needed in traditional gardening pots, Payan said.

Tall pots also promote faster growth in plants. For a mesquite plant to reach 4 to 5 feet tall takes more than a year in a traditional pot. In a tall pot, it takes only two months, Payan said.

"It's pretty crazy," he said, in reference to the rapid plant growth tall pots enable.

The trees are planted with a gel compound called DriWater, which metabolizes with organisms in the soil to release water for about 90 days. No irrigation is needed, saving the county plenty of money and water in Tucson's arid climate. Tall-pot plants have about a 90 percent survival rate, according to a county press release.

The county does not sell plants or tall pots to the general public - it grows plants native to the Tucson area and transplants them to county property for revegetation, landscaping and habitat improvement and restoration projects. Payan said that in time he hopes the pots will become available to the public at large for gardening around the city.

"Right now, we don't want to compete with the private sector, especially since traditional pots still do work, but if these (tall) pots prove to be a success, we can use them wherever," he said.

Stephen Varga is a University of Arizona graduate who is apprenticing at the Star. Contact him at 573-4142 or starapprentice@azstarnet.com

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