Lynn Aegard-Master Gardener
People have the urge to garden no matter where they live. Many problems, such as lack of room, apartment or condo living, smaller yards, or lack of time and expertise, can be solved by growing plants in containers. When you stop and think about it, most of the plants we deal with on a day to day basis, are containerized. All of the plants we purchase at our favourite nursery or gardening centre are in containers, with the small exception of bare root stock. Many of us use hanging baskets, container plantings of all sorts on our patios, decks, steps, landings, sidewalks, windows, balconies etc. to incorporate many kinds of plants and veggies into our living spaces, inside and out. In order to get the maximum bloom and enjoyment from our containerized planting, here are some simple procedures to follow.
*should be large enough to provide room for soil and roots of plants, have sufficient head room for watering, provide bottom drainage, be attractive yet not compete with the plant it holds, be is scale [size] with the rest of the plantings, and in visual proportion to the plant growing in it.
*containers can be practically anything that you have around the house e.g. crocks urns, aquaria, tanks, jardineres, tubs, barrels, pots, bowls, hanging baskets, pans, cans, rocks, chimney tiles, wire cages, cement blocks, wicker baskets, wire baskets, wooden baskets and boxes, laundry tubs, wheelbarrows, wringer washing machine, old boots, stone troughs and on and one.
*drainage holes in the bottom of the container are the secret to success in container growing.
*all clay pots, window boxes, strawberry or herbal planters, etc. must be covered completely with water and soaked overnight in order that the dry clay will not draw all the moisture from the damp soil, and harm the plants.
THE SOIL OR PLANTING MEDIUM
*use a good quality potting medium, porous for root aeration and drainage, but capable of water and nutrient retention
*commercially prepared mixes offer all of the above, plus is insect, weed and disease free
*be very aware of the weight of the finished container planting especially if you are gardening on a balcony or rooftop
*soilless potting mediums such as Pro-Mix or Sunshine Mix can be used to keep the weight of the planter manageable both for moving and for stresses put on the balcony or other growing area
*you can add your own soil amendments such as perlite to increase aeration and drainage, and vermiculite to increase water holding capacity
*soilless mixes have the correct pH for most plants to absorb and make use of macronutrients and micronutrients in fertilizers.
*in order to lighten the weight of your container, provide drainage, and save on potting mixtures, use styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of your planter.
*practically anything can be grown in a container
*annuals:- impatiens, begonias, both fibrous and tuberous, torenia, dusty miller, geraniums, pelargoniums, caladiums, marigolds, cosmos, snapdragons, petunias, pansies, violas, ----------- the kinds and numbers of plants are limited only by your imagination and budget
*perennials:- hostas, lilies, astilbe, euphorbia, heuchera etc. etc.
*trees and shrubs:- dwarf varieties have been developed for container growing and the small garden.
*bulbs:- most bulbs can be grown in containers, and spring bulbs such as tulips, paperwhites, and daffodils can be forced to bloom indoors, while summer bulbs such as canna lily, calla lily, tuberous begonia, caladiums can be planted with other flowering or foliage plants to make attractive and stunning containers for the deck, patio or steps.
*fruits and veggies:- tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, potato barrels, dwarf fruit trees hardy to our area. Some seed companies are developing a goodly number of veggies to be container grown
*herbs:- almost all herbs can be grown in containers, outdoors and indoors, keeping in mine where they originated geographically.
*the most common problem with container gardens is too little or too much water
*because the volume of the potting medium is relatively small, containers dry out quickly, especially clay or unglazed terra cotta
*use your finger on the hand opposite to the one you normally use to test the soil for moisture
*apply enough water so it runs through the drainage holes at the bottom of the container
*do not depend on rainfall for watering containers, the large leaves and blooms often cover the soil medium surface, blocking most of the rainfall from getting to the plant
*containers look better in a group, large or small, or varied sizes and shapes, using colour, or the cultivar as criteria
*an exceptionally decorative planter may look better as a focal point, taking into account its size
*pots can be added or replaced as needed, if one container looks scruffy and isn't blooming replace it with another.
*containers can be placed appropriately in the garden, in front of vines, brick walls or singly, as a focal point
*make sure that the plants have the proper growing conditions according to their needs, such as the proper amount of sun or shade
*regular feeding with a fertilizer is a must
*slow release fertilizers can be incorporated into the planting medium according to package directions
*remember that slow release fertilizers operate on the temperature and amount of soil moisture; the hotter or colder the temperature is the less fertilizer is available to the plants.
*it is common practice to use a slow release fertilizer in the potting medium and then also use a dissolvable granular fertilizer
*use transplanter fertilizer when planting up your containers e.g. 10-52-10
*a small pinch of granular 20-20-20 in your watering can every time you water your containers is a great method of fertilizer maintenance and saves the trouble of trying to remember when what plant was done
*don't forget to deadhead the spent flowers, so the plants will keep on blooming and not go to seed
QUICK TIPS AND TRICKS FOR CONTAINER
*take care not to place a plant in a container that is too large for it. Root rot can occur and if the plant lives, it will spend most of its time filling the pot with roots and little time and energy growing foliage. Always remember to keep the volume of wet soil in the container within the capabilities of the plant's root structure to use up the moisture, and dry out in a correct space of time.
*a bottle cap placed crimped-edge down or a coffee filter makes a good cover for the drainage hole or holes in the bottom of the container
*if the container is very large and is going to have to be move at some time in the summer, mount it on a set of caster wheels, available in most stores
*if a plant is top heavy, e.g. a tuberous begonia in full bloom, and it keeps on tipping over, try double potting it. Put it in a larger pot, and fill the space in between the 2 pots with small rocks or gravel
*no room for a garden? A wheelbarrow makes a wonderful movable bed and hanging baskets work well for some kinds of veggies as well as innumerable flowering plants
*turn an old barbecue into a conversation piece. Paint it, fill it with a soil medium, and plant flowers or vines in it.
*a free standing step ladder [painted an accent colour if you wish], makes a good display stand for container plants
*plants benefit from humidity. By grouping them together, you help raise the humidity level
*when to water your potted plants? Just thump the pot or container, if it sounds hollow, water it, if it thuds it is fine. This works better with clay pots and containers.
*also use the weight method of seeing if a plant needs watering, lift is and if it threatens to float away, water it immediately.
*if by chance a container or two thoroughly dries out, plunge the pot into a pail or any other large container of water and let it soak thoroughly. Add just a drop of dishwashing detergent and it will help the water molecules to adhere to the fibres of the planting medium.
*if the top of the planting medium gets very hard and crusty, puncture holes in it with a knitting needle or awl and add water slowly.
*have neighbours below your balcony that might get watered along with your plants? Slip shower caps or elasticized plastic food cover over the bottom of your hanging baskets to catch the overflow. Remove after an hour or so.
QUICK FERTILIZER PRIMER
There are three numbers on the label of the box or jar, for example 20-20-20
*first number N is for nitrogen, needed for healthy foliar or leafy growth e.g. 30-10-10
*second number is for P for phosphorus, very important in root development and health when transplanting and for flower development e.g. 10-52-10
*third number is K for potassium, needed for overall plant health, disease resistance, and fruiting e.g. tomatoes, cucumbers or corn e.g. 15-15-30
POLYMER GELS OR WETTING AGENTS FOR CONTAINER PLANTS
Water holding polymer gel has received much attention, but its use is controversial. In isolation, polymer gel crystals can absorb a lot of moisture, expanding up to 100 times their weight in distilled water. In soil, however, ions decrease the water-holding capacity of the gels by as much as 85%. Research shows that at the low rates recommended on the label, and offered in some potting mixes, polymer gel is ineffective in increasing water available to the roots. Organic matter is less expensive, so it can be used in potting mixes in much greater quantity than polymer gel to hold far more water available to the roots. To be effective, polymer gel must be mixed into potting soils in such high volumes that its expense and excessive shrinkage preclude its use. Decide for yourself as to whether you wish to use it or not.