Setting Up a Potting Bench That Makes Gardening Easier

Claire Splan

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Whether you call it a potting bench, propagation area, or transplant table, a gardener needs a dedicated space to perform all those tasks—sowing seeds, planting containers, cleaning tools, and much more—that require a clear, flat surface and easy access to your tools and supplies. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it does need to be well thought out and properly stocked.

Here are the essential elements to include in your workspace:

  • Worktable: It can be metal, wood, or plastic, but it should be weather-resistant and have a big enough working surface to accommodate the tasks at hand—something at least 4 feet wide is preferable with the worktop at a height appropriate for your size.
  • Shelves: The only way to keep a workspace clear and efficient is to have a place to stash tools and supplies nearby but out of the way. Shelves above and/or below the worktable keep everything in easy reach.
  • Bins: Keeping potting soil, perlite, compost, and other amendments in their plastic bags is an invitation for spills and contamination. Store them in covered plastic or galvanized metal bins that are clearly labeled to keep them neat and clean.
  • Containers: Dedicate one area to store all your unused pots and planters. Keep a large pail or dishpan nearby along with some bleach and a scrub brush so that you can clean pots with a diluted bleach solution before reusing them.
  • Hand tools: Trowels, pruners, scoopers, and other hand tools can be kept in a drawer or hung on a pegboard with S-hooks. Keep a container of disinfecting wet towelettes on hand to wipe tools clean before returning to their assigned spot.
  • Tags and markers: The easiest thing in the world to do is to tag our plants with their full name and date planted—but it’s often something we forget to do. Make it easier to remember by keeping a stash of tags and permanent markers at the ready in a Ziploc bag.

And here are a few things you should never store in your outdoor workspace:

  • Seeds: Packets of seeds, whether opened or unopened, are best stored in a sealed, airtight container in your refrigerator. Storing them in an outdoor workspace leaves them subject to extremes of temperature that can decrease their viability and turn your favorite seeds into duds.
  • Diseased plants or cuttings: Banish these quickly to the trash bin (not the compost bin!). Bringing diseased plants to your workstation is a good way to spread the infection throughout your garden.
  • Herbicides and pesticides: Not only should these toxic solutions be kept out of the reach of children and pets, but they should not be stored anywhere near where you are working with seeds, seedlings, or transplants. Anything toxic should be kept in a secure area well out of the reach of anyone who doesn’t understand how to use them.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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