Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Outside Planters and Pots

I think I need these!

Outside container gardens have many benefits:  Growing plants even though you don't have a yard.  Covering or blocking something ugly.  Bringing annual color to an otherwise drab spot.  Allowing color to be moved.  Making it easier to water and fertilize annuals.  

Pots can have color coordination, size and style.  They can be any old piece of junk that will hold soil and can be watered - called shabby chic in the decorating magazines.  It can be a sculpture.  It may be attached to the house (as in window boxes), free standing or incorporated into other hardscapes.

The trick of container gardening isn't usually the container or the plants.  The trick is making the container hospitable for a whole summer's worth of beauty.  
These are metal sculptures with pots
on top to look like flowering trees.
Unless you plan to have bog or water garden containers, you must have sufficient drainage.  Nothing kills an average annual quicker than having their "feet" or roots standing in water.  

Tired of your water feature?  Plant it.
Unless you don't mind dragging a hose or watering can around the yard, situate containers where they're easily watered.  Nothing kills an average annual quicker than having their roots dry out.  OK the point being if you mess up the roots, the plant will either be stunted or will die.  Stunted plants really never have time to recuperate during our short summer season.  

Every plant in a single container must have compatible needs.  Water, fertilizer, sun and space needs have to be the same or something will die.

With the exception of some sedum, spurge or arid plants, most will need to be fertilized on a weekly basis.  Even if you use a potting medium with fertilizer included, it will be used up in about a month.  Use a light mix of water soluble all purpose fertilizer for annuals and don't wait until they show need.  By then it will be too late to bring them back to robust beauty.  Don't over fertilizer or make it stronger in the hopes it will make the plants even better.  Too much will kill the plant.  Fertilizing is especially necessary if you are growing vegetables in pots.

Could work?
Some plants will probably need to be pinched back several times BEFORE they get leggy.  It takes a strong gardener to pinch off flowers and buds and then wait until it all comes back.  Read the plant's needs and tendencies to understand which ones need cut back.  Some petunias must be pinched while others are bred to vine and cascade.  Even vines (example is sweet potato) benefit from being pinched at least once during the growing season.  Pinching (cutting) back to a bud or leaf encourages the plant to send out two new stems.  If you do this a couple of times a summer, that plant will be much fuller and healthier - not to mention more beautiful with more flower and/or leaves.   If you've never cut back annuals and not sure what you're doing, learn first; doing it wrong can kill the plant.

Vegetables in pots may need pinching if you've bought regular sized plants.  Dwarf varieties usually don't need as much pinching.  Most herbs don't need much pinching except to pinch off flowers to keep it from going to seed (unless you want seeds such as in dill) or in hopes of getting a few more weeks of beauty.  Basil tends to get leggy towards the end of summer and regular pinching may prevent this.  Use a really deep and heavy pot for vegetable plants with large heavy vegetables or for vines.  Putting a couple of brick in the bottom may help keep it from toppling over.  

As the season progresses, the plant roots will start to fill the container making it almost impossible for it to live without daily (sometimes twice daily) water and weekly fertilizer.  This is especially true if you've planted in a small or shallow container.  There may come a time in late summer where there is no more hope for the container's plants and you can either compost or dig a small hole in your other beds, plop the thing in and hope for a little late season color before it dies.  

Some gardeners will pluck out a dead plant and insert a new plant.  I've never had good luck with this because it disturbs the other roots and the container is usually so root bound that the new roots don't stand a chance.  I break off the dead/dying and insert an ornament such as a little bird house, glass ball or some other little thing to try to look like I meant it to be there.

Little pots will need more watching and care.
If you have really big or deep planters and don't have top heavy or deep rooted plants, I suggest putting filler in the bottom first.  I put a coffee filter over the drainage holes first.  Add filler:  plastic milk cartons, pop/beer cans in the bottom 1/3 and then add soil.  Do NOT use packing peanuts because they're very unmanageable.  Using filler saves money.

I suggest watering pots until water flows out the drainage holes.  Then come back to that pot in about half an hour and slowly water again until it flows out.  The double watering achieves good saturation whereas the one big watering may simply be running out quickly without the entire soil ball getting moist.  

Use water soluble fertilizer on your pot about half an hour after the above good soaking.  Don't fertilize until it runs out - it's wasteful and will end up fertilizing whatever plants catch the runoff.  If the soil is already damp, the fertilizer will go throughout the soil and not just soaked up by the top few inches (where it does no good and can even cause roots to reach up and not down.)

I love my old wash tub
You may have to move your pots during the summer to get adequate light or enough shade, depending on the needs.  What looks perfect in the spring may change once leaves are on the trees and the sun is in a different position.  If you have a solid and flat surface, the pots can be on wheeled bases.  Wheeled bases aren't as sturdy as sitting flat so make sure the base is large enough to handle the weight and height during moving or heavy wind.  

Pots:  Is one enough?  Is a hundred too many?  I've seen beauty in both.  What is never beautiful is the gardener who is into all plants every spring but never quite gets them all potted leaving little bunches of dead plants in plastic pots everywhere.  Or the plants put so beautifully in pots and never cared for again showing a bunch of dead plants all summer.

One of my favorite white and blue combos.

Do the little glass balls on hallow stems really work to keep plants watered?  Not really.  They get plugged, they either leak out all at once or not at all.  BUT they do look pretty - they're just not a watering tool.

A note on hanging containers:  They dry out MUCH faster than other pots because of the wind/air all around them.  They will need much closer observation and care all summer.

Fiber lining holds things in place but the soil will dry out faster.
Fiber lining and unglazed pots will dry out very fast.  Plastic pots can hold too much moisture.  They can be beautiful but be aware of their needs.    

Hope you enjoy the pictures of containers in this article.  Seriously makes you want to rush out and plant something today - except it was below freezing last night.    


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