Digging in the Dirt: Container Gardening
Create a wonderful flower garden, kitchen garden, woodsy area, or shade garden on your deck or patio. Although growing plants in containers is not a new idea, it has become more and more popular in recent years due to our smaller living spaces.
Easy access, care and maintenance are major factors that are especially important to those of us who are visually impaired or physically disabled. Truth is, it is just wonderful to be puttering around in our own little garden making things grow. The type of container garden you plant will depend largely on the amount of sun, shade and temperature available.
Plastic, ceramic, terracotta or wood containers are all good choices. Stick with the same type of container throughout the garden for a pleasing look. Choose various sizes and shapes of containers. This helps to identify plants. Grouping together containers of various heights in threes or fives makes for easier watering and allows air circulation and more sunshine for each plant.
For flowers and vegetables, use one half potting soil and one half compost. For woodsy or shade gardens, use one third potting soil, one third compost and one third bark dust. Use a four to six quart bowl to scoop soil and compost from bag to container. Fill each container three-quarters full because most plants come with additional soil. If you intend to plant seeds, fill the container to within two inches of the rim.
Planting the Most Successful Garden:
To help decide what to plant, call a local nursery or garden center for information on what is available in your area. Ask about flowers that bloom throughout the summer, as well as early and late bloomers. A garden is always more attractive when you have flowers blooming.
If you want to purchase seeds, here are a few recommendations to keep your purchases organized. Take some clear tape with you and mark each packet with one, two or three strips of tape, etc. Also bring a small tape recorder to record the planting information you get from the nursery worker and so you can record info about how you marked your seed packets (e.g.: double white petunias = one strip; pansies = two strips, etc.)
Each state is divided into plant hardy zones. This determines what plants grow and survive best in your climate, and there can be anywhere from four to ten zones in one state. The county extension master gardener desk is a great resource for free information. They will be able to tell which zone you are located in and help with any other plant information you may need.
Kitchen gardening allows you to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs in containers that are within close proximity of your kitchen. Here are some suggestions.
Dwarf blueberry plants have pink or white blossoms, fruit in midsummer, and colorful leaves in autumn. Ever-bearing strawberries have lush green foliage and berries summer through fall. Red currants have hot pink flowers in the spring, fruit in late summer.
Most vegetables can be grown in containers with the exception of corn that requires pollination. Try other plants such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard and radishes. All grow quickly and can be planted from seed. They grow best in spring and late summer. These plants become bitter and inedible if they are exposed to too much hot weather. Peas, in fact, grow great in spring. Pull them out when the crop is finished and plant tomatoes.
Try cherry tomatoes. They ripen quickly and taste sweet and wonderful. Plant an early variety, 60-70 days, and one that ripens later in 90 days. Start with purchased plants that are eight to ten inches tall. Follow these same guidelines if you want larger sized tomatoes or Romes. Keep in mind that these plants will need stakes, so they won't topple over and break when the fruit gets heavy.
Zucchini and summer squash need large amounts of sun and water. Their large, deep green leaves and yellow orange blossoms make a very attractive plant. Cucumbers need lots of sun. Also pick a variety that is good for salads. Vines and fruit will hang over the sides of the container.
Bell peppers, the red, green, yellow and purple varieties, are very similar in taste, size and shape. Plant several different colors. Extra peppers can be cut up and frozen for winter use. If bees bother you and you want to avoid them, work in your garden very early in the morning or after the sun goes down.
Rosemary, sage, tarragon, oregano, thyme, mint, parsley and chives can be easily grown from established plants and used frequently in your kitchen. They can also be dried for use later.
Container gardening can be a fun and rewarding experience; and yes, it's even therapeutic. Also, it opens up your deck or patio and makes it into a new living space you can enjoy.
May the sun shine brightly on your horizons.
This article by Melinda Holland first appeared in Dialogue 35 (Winter 1996) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher. Dialogue magazine is published in braille, large print, 4-track cassette and IBM compatible 3.5-inch diskette.
Click this link for additional tips on Container Gardening from the Gardening In Boxes blog at http://www.gardeninginboxes.com.
Keeping Containers Looking Good
By Michael Russell
The most inspiring container displays are grown by gardeners who have developed a real feel for their plants and can tell at a glance when they are in need of water, food, a bigger pot or just a good tidy up. If you play doctor with them, your plant will reward you with luxuriant growth. Professional growers achieve this by keeping their plants growing steadily throughout the seasons, so they never suffer from a check in growth by being starved or dried out. It's not rocket science but having a few pieces of essential maintenance equipment to hand is one of the keys to success.
A well balanced, long necked watering can turns watering from a chore to a pleasure. A fine rose on the end of the spout is ideal for soaking seedlings and plug plants without washing them away.
Give container grown plants a liquid feed every seven to ten days. If this seems too much of a commitment use push in feed pellets that deliver nutrients every time you water during the growing season. Water retaining granules can also be mixed into the potting compost before planting up. They are especially useful for hanging baskets or window boxes on south facing sills where they can make the difference between watering once rather than twice a day during hot, windy weather.
Just as having a dog to walk gets you up in the morning, so will having a mobile garden to tend to. Get into a watering routine and you will make light work of it. Water in the morning or evening to reduce evaporation and try to avoid splashing the leaves as this will cause them to scorch when exposed to strong sunlight. At holiday time, move your containers to a shady wall and stand them on special moisture retentive capillary matting fed from a tin bath of water.
In the Autumn, winter and spring months, plants need much less water, although it is surprising how a series of hard frosts can strip the moisture from the compost and this can only be replenished when the compost has thawed out. When the weather's particularly severe, it pays to gather your containers under a warm house wall where they will escape the worst of the weather.
Deadhead your plants regularly as soon as flowers fade. This will encourage a fresh flush of flower buds. Spent flowers left on the plant will usually inhibit further flower production, however, not all spent flowers need to be removed. Busy Lizzies and those super vigorous petunias carry on regardless. Some like marigolds can be snapped off. Others like pansies and nasturtiums can be nipped off by pinching them with your fingernails.
For bushy fuschias and chrysanthemums with lots of blooms, pinch back shoots regularly. Do this by simply nipping off the tips of the shoots. At the end of summer be ruthless and throw annuals past their best onto the compost heap. However, some plants sold for bedding can be propagated from cuttings in late summer or dug up and over-wintered in a frost free greenhouse or porch. They have the potential to get bigger and better every year.