With garden centers filled with enormous quantities of beautiful flowers and vegetables, nobody should feel left out this time of year. Gardening is for everyone. That certainly includes people who live in apartments or townhouses where the garden is a patio, deck, balcony or a few steps.
A huge range of attractive containers are in the marketplace from traditional terra cotta, stone or concrete pottery to less expensive ones that are lighter in weight and often quite colorful. Plus there are baskets, boxes and barrels. In short, there is a size and shape to suit every space. Anything you use must have drainage holes in the bottom to let out excess water.
For many people, this becomes a serious hobby as they test out plant combinations for color, texture and performance. Others find pleasure in creating special collections of herbs or succulents that do well in pots.
While a container garden is much simpler and easier than a large flower bed, it still has some basic requirements that lead to success.
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Soil: The first is, of course, soil. Packaged, high quality potting soil is important for containers because it has the right texture to allow maximum root development in a confined space. It may also contain fertilizer granules that feed the plants. For best results, start with fresh potting soil every year.
Sun: Next, know your sun or shade. This governs plant selection because plants have specific requirements. And the amount of sun your area gets can vary through the year. This winter’s sunny patio may turn quite shady once the leaves come out. Few people have actual deep shade. Part shade is more common and a nice range of plants prosper in it.
If your spot is sunny, consider whether it is from a western exposure, because summer afternoon sun can be very harsh. Plants must be selected with this in mind and care must be taken to water plants regularly in this hot spot.
Water: Watering is perhaps the biggest challenge for container gardeners because it simply must not be overlooked. In the mild days of spring, when rain happens fairly often, it is not such a daily ritual. But when the heat hits, and it will be here before you know it, you will have to look at the containers every day and probably water them every day.
A product called Soil-Moist helps with this. These are water-holding granules that absorb then slowly release water into the soil. You put them into the soil when you prepare it for planting. This should reduce the number of times you have to water, but you should still check the containers by poking your finger into soil to make sure it has not dried out. Drying out is the path to failure.
When selecting plants, go first for the environment you have, and let your own taste govern the choice of shape and colors. Really, you cannot go wrong with color. Some may wish a range of tones in a single color such as light to dark pink or lilac to deep purple. Others may opt for a merry mix of primary colors, red, yellow and blue, which looks wonderful. Make the choice yours.
Q: How soon should I fertilize my perennial garden? Things are already growing a lot.
A. Things do seem to be on the move and at quite a rapid pace. A layer of compost, about 1 inch deep, placed around the emerging plants should provide good nutrition for the perennials and will contribute to soil improvement. If you cannot get compost, choose a slow-release garden fertilizer applied at the rate directed on the package. Do not use more than the recommended rate and avoid getting the fertilizer granules on the fresh leaves.