From clay pots to garbage cans

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Why grow in pots when we have so much dirt? Apartments, balconies, sure, but why would a woman with an acre of good land have over 100 containers? This may be my favorite topic!

  • you can grow some version of every plant you like in pots including species you can't grow here otherwise: great drainage and unlimited seasons are at your command in containers.
  • for busy people, beds are lots of work every year. With pots, you get it started and establish a routine and just do it. It's meditation in a crazy world.
  • The air in your house will be cleaner with green plants inside
  • Big pots make wonderful focal points on the deck, by the front door, and even in beds - something architectural to tie the design together all year.
  • Herbs and even veggies can be right out the kitchen door and that's good in wet weather.
  • But for me and many of you, it's all about control!
    • First of all, gardening's about bringing order to chaos. Remember: 'We can make a little order where we are, and then the big sweep of history on which we can have no effect doesn't overwhelm us. We do it with colors, with a garden, with the furnishings of a room, or with sounds and words. We make a little form, and we gain composure.' Robert Frost
    • No clay, gumbo, or shifting sand soil to contend with when you garden in containers
    • Virtually no weeds, unless you consider jewels of opar a weed
    • Put 'em where you want 'em!
      • Easily meet the sunlight needs of plants
      • Isolate plants with pests at the first sign of damage
      • Decorate with pots indoors and out
    • Watering containers is so easy to customize to your habits!
      • Use clay pots if you like to water everyday, but stick with plastic if you're a forgetful irrigator.
      • Devices - get yourself one of each: a watering can with a rose head, a water wand, and a water breaker for the hose.
    • Tailor soil to the plant's desire and your gardening habits.
      • Peat-based potting soil is great for starting seeds all alone.
      • Add sand for succulents, Mediterranean and new Zealand annuals like Bacopas, also perennial Dianthus.
      • Add compost - root cuttings and grow good drainage demanders like poinsettia.
      • Add ground bark to lighten up big pots and provide better drainage for trees and shrubs.
      • Add manure & cottonseed meal to make a mix for veggies, roses, and any pots outside all year.
      • Always add lime and fertilizer - just a dusting will do.
      • Mix in wheelbarrow or bathtub, store in garbage can.
    So, what does a container full of soil do for a living? Soil is made of particles, sand is a great big one, clay soil is a little bitty one, everything else is in between. The mixture of particle sizes determines how fast the soil drains water away and how much essential oxygen can be available to the roots when it is trapped in the spaces between particles. Nutrients, too, are held in the spaces for the roots to absorb. Without proper relationships between air, soil, and water, plants suffer. How do you choose what to grow in a container and how to combine plants?
    • Sometimes it's as simple as container size and type - you can see herbs together and know they don't need deep roots, so a shallow pan will do.
    • Bullies need their own containers so they don't take over the pot.
    • Friendlier types with similar needs (for sun or shade, to be dry between waterings or have constant moisture) can grow together.
    • After that, it's a matter of design - how the plants look together in the pot - follow basic bed or flower arrangement rules of three: tall, middle, short and a selection of spikey, frilly, and round flowers or plant shapes. What does a pot do? * Holds soil, water, and roots, drains and is big enough to support the plant in it.
    • Balance between top and roots is very important, thus the move up rule: always go from the current pot to one no more than an inch larger.
    • Check these out: reservoir pot, half pots, bowls, standards, saucers and plates, tires, shoes, granny's sock, stackable hanging pots and baskets. Plant bulbs - everybody says to do it, nobody shows you how, so I will.
    • Use a clean pot.
    • Put a one inch layer of new gravel in the pot.
    • Place the bulbs, then add more gravel up to their shoulders.
    • Water once, then put the pot in dark, cool place.
    • Keep an eye out and water sparingly.
    • When four inch white stems emerge, bring the pot into bright light to bloom.
    Remember in these difficult times: When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.
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