The Seven Container Gardening Basics Every Gardener Should Know
One of the delights of our summer garden is our container gardens. We use them in a variety of ways and whether you have acres of gardens or a postage stamp patio, you might consider the use of containers to extend and improve the range of plants you grow.
To begin with, any plant you can name can be grown in a container. I know that some garden books will say give just the contrary advice but if I can grow plants -from bananas to cosmos and roses to zinnias in a container, I don't see why you can't. I grow my lavender collection in containers beside our front door and they lend a certain "style" and fragrance to our entrance way.
Here are a few good gardening techniques for making those containers a hit in your garden this summer.
SoilGood container soil is the key to success. Use a good quality soilless mix in the container. Don't use a cheap brand or regular garden soil because they will compact and turn to concrete over the course of the summer. A good soilless mix is composed mostly of peat moss and perlite (perhaps with a very small amount of compost) and that's about all.
A good soil like Pro-mix or Fafard will more than pay for themselves in superior plant performance this summer. And, they are light enough that you can still move most containers even when fully filled.
I also use a fish emulsion fertilizer on a weekly basis for my container plants. This stuff is the best container food in the world, producing huge, fragrant rose blossoms and jungle-like growth on our window boxes. There's nothing else like it because it has all the major and minor nutrients a container plant needs.
Most other liquid fertilizers lack the minor and trace elements a plant requires for superior growth. Remember that soilless mixs, unlike natural mineral soils in your garden, do not have these trace elements as part of their natural composition so you have to provide them if you want your plants to grow properly.
The bonus of container growing plants is that you can place the container where you need it. For example, if you have a paved patio but want to grow plants up a trellis, then simply put a large container beside the trellis and plant morning glory seeds in the container. Those seeds will germinate quickly and if you train them towards the trellis (gently lay them down in the direction of the trellis when they threaten to go the other way) they'll quickly find it and start climbing.
You could use the back of a round container for morning glory seeds and fill the front with impatiens and trailing lobelia so your container not only grows upwards but also gives you a flower show.
Multi-layer Your Planting
That's another key to remember. Don't just think of your containers as having just one use. We used to grow pansies under our containerized roses. The pansies would give us a great show in the early spring before the rose had leaved out and then would climb upwards into the rose when the rose shaded it. The pansy would act like a short vine and would poke its flowers out in unexpected spots. As I recall, we used a mid-blue pansy with a peach coloured rose to give a super colour combination.
You can also tuck herbs like basil into flower pots so you can harvest a few leaves whenever the need for a toasted tomato sandwich strikes (you *have* to use basil on those sandwiches if you want to really experience the joy of a tomato sandwich) I note that if a container is large enough for 8 full, large shovels full of soil, it is large enough (with daily watering) to grow a tomato plant.
Water Plants - Why Not?
Why not plug up the hole of a container and grow small water lilies in one. I did this last year and the lily was a great hit in the garden. I even managed to keep a few small rosy barb fish alive all summer in one clay-coloured container that was semi-shaded.
I did however discover the hard way that the high water temperatures generated in small black plastic above-ground water containers was not good for fish even if it was great for the dwarf lilies.
Perennials and Winter Survival
One of the newest gardening trends is to grow perennials in garden containers and I confess I've done this for many years now. The only problem with this is with winter survival. In the case of our lavenders, they spend the winter on our porch. The porch is protected from the wind and moderated by house temperatures and the lavenders survive nicely.
An attached garage would be equally appropriate. A garage or shed that is not protected by house heat would be too cold for good winter survival. (We don't want perennial roots to get to 5F.)
An alternative suggested by some writers is to dig the perennials out of the pot and plant them in the garden for the winter. You can then dig them up for the container in the spring or simply leave them in the garden to grow. There is no perennial that will not survive in a large container so you are only limited by your imagination.
And that's the essence of good container gardening. Get a big enough container (I use 16 inch clay pots) and a big enough imagination and you can extend your gardening and growing to anywhere you happen to spend some time.
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