Get out & grow!A special gardening section

Published on Thu, Apr 17, 2003
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Get out & grow!
A special gardening section

Container planting can enhance home
and landscape
by Michelle Ensinger
Container planting can be a very versatile way to make a strong statement in your yard. First, however, you need to do some basic planning ahead of time.

First, decide where you want your containers (easier to move before dirt and plants are planted), consider the effect you want, what plants will be used (sun or shade) and if you want a vegetable garden in your containers (ideal for apartment dwellers).

If you want your plants to be moveable, ensure you are using the proper container and rollers for your situation.

Obviously, if you have an area where nothing will grow � terraces, decks and entryways, a container is the perfect solution.

Some types of containers include: terra cotta � allows air and water to pass through walls. Drawback: prone to freezing and cracking, pot dries out quickly after watering and salt residues may build up on the pot.

Concrete � more durable than terra cotta, but a lot heavier and more expensive.

Synthetic. Plastic and fiberglass are durable, lightweight, colorful. Drawback: can crack if left exposed over long term to the sun�s ultra violet rays and can fade in time.

Wood. Planters, window-planters, etc., keeps roots cooler in direct sun. Drawback: will rot over time; therefore, those with liners are usually a good way to go; can create �water/dirt� spots on concrete if a tray is not used.

Custom. Old metal/cast iron container, old shoes, etc., can also be fun in the yard/garden.

Remember, whatever you decide to plant in your container, extra care may be required � food, light, water and ensure your soil is designed for containers, as soil in containers dries out faster than in the ground (wind and sun will dry out the container).

If your container is in direct sun, try to avoid using dark containers which absorb heat more readily and require more watering. Drip systems are really a blessing when your work schedule is busy or you are unable to rely on anyone else to tend to your plants� watering, feeding, etc.

Plants and vegetables in containers need more frequent feeding than plants in the ground as nutrients leach out and watering is important to wash out any salts.

If you decide to grow your vegetables in containers, there are many varieties of dwarf vegetables, especially tomatoes that do well in containers. You can combine with your tomatoes � radishes, onions, lettuce, parsley, sage, garlic; however, I would plant peppers and cucumbers in a separate container. In a hanging basket, you can purchase trailing tomatoes (I�ve also used patio tomatoes), cucumbers, parsley, thyme, chives with the tomatoes, and if you wish to plant root veggies, ensure that they have plenty of room to grow.

When the tap root hits bottom, the growth stops and the veggies start to look gnarled. Watermelon can be grown in five gallon containers, and potatoes go crazy if you use clean, old tires � two tires high � and just keep the mounding habit from the bottom tire up as you would ground planting. Whenever planting check to see the mature size to ensure your container will be large enough to encompass the plants growth. Transplanting plants and especially vegetables in mid-season is very stressful on the plant and best to be avoided. Remember when planting herbs with other than vegetables, check on the soil�s pH to see if the plants are compatible.

In the corners of your container, as per planting instructions, you can plant summer bulbs now and have their color mid-summer to late as an added feature in your planters.

Decide if you want all annuals, perennial/annual mix, slow growing evergreens, deciduous, sun or shade loving or do you really want to be adventurous and try some patio plants. Many of these plants are not hearty to our area, but will survive our summer and early fall. They will need to be brought in the home/greenhouse and maintained at a warmer temperature during the winter.

When filling your containers, bring the soil level to within an inch of the pot�s rim. The space between the pot�s rim and the soil is dead air space, where without air circulation, mealy bugs, spider mites and others will thrive.

Please remember to water more frequently and if the water is running out too fast, check to see if the root ball has dried out and has shrunk away from the sides of the container. If this happens (usually from not watering thoroughly) the container needs to be set in a tub of water (to which I add liquid seaweed or kelp as per instructions for transplanting) and soak until the bubbles stop or if that is not possible, cork/block the drainage holes and water the plant. Allow to soak up to six hours, then take out the blockage and allow the excess water to drain.

Heavy watering leaches out soil nutrients, so I usually use liquid fertilizers. However, if I am to have a busy season, I use time released food, 1/2 as per instructions, as I have found time released can burn the plants if not spread around the container properly. Better to use less, as more does not always mean better.

The following are just a few plants that you may want to try for containers: geraniums, wave petunias, alyssum, lobellia, small to medium sized snapdragons, iberia, daylillies, bulbs (border dahlias look wonderful), lavatera rosie, oriental lilies, hosta (shade), boxwood (good topiary), Jersey pinnacle holly (good topiary), some varieties of roses, nandina (heavenly bamboo), honeysuckle (a trellis added to your container to enhance an area), slow growing evergreens (your nursery will know which varieties are slow growing as the tag will also advise), ceanothus (check on variety for mature size).

Remember, you are planting for you, so if you don�t want your plant centered, then don�t, you are doing this for you. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Please note: allow your now flowering bulbs (and your summer bulbs) to die back on their own as the stocks and leaves feed the bulbs for next year�s growth. If you don�t like the way the area looks, plant some other plants to cover the die back to these bulbs, but please allow the bulbs to have their cycle.

I have container planted for over 25 years and I am always finding new ideas for my plants and vegetables, as I am sure you will also enjoy.

Create a backyard birdhouse
There are lots of ways to make your yard a welcoming haven for local wildlife while bringing you closer to nature at the same time.

For starters, set up a bird feeder. The best foods include sunflower, niger (also called thistle) proso millet, cracked corn and suet.

Here are some hints from the National Wildlife Federation�s (NWF) Backyard Wildlife Habitat program which is celebrating its 30 year anniversary this year. Over the years NWF has educated millions of people about the joys of gardening for wildlife.
� Provide multiple feeding stations in different areas of your yard to disperse bird activity. Crowding at the feeder can cause stress, which may make birds more vulnerable to disease.
� Keep seed clean and dry and watch that it doesn�t get moldy. Offer only fresh seed.
� Use a seed blend that is designed for the feeder you have and the type of birds that come to that feeder. Blends that contain filler seeds or grains are not typically eaten by birds and end up on the ground making a mess.
� Provide seeds from a feeder rather than scattering them on the ground.
� Supplement your bird feeders by planting a wide variety of native plants.

Learn more about creating a backyard wildlife habitat and how to have it officially certified by the National Wildlife Federation at www. nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat, or by calling (585) 461-3092.

Rock garden a unique approach
Are you thinking of having a rock garden? If so, you will generally have the best results if you go for an informal look, as opposed to a formal rock garden.

Look for a place where rocks just exist naturally, or where you have brought in rocks from elsewhere. This area can have lots of exposure to the wind and the sun.

Also, it can be in a place where the soil is not as fertile as would be needed if you were growing vegetables are usually the best place for a rock garden. Most of all you will want to make your rock garden look natural like it has been there for years. Usually the plants in a rock garden should bloom in the spring and summer months.

Placement of the garden is critical. Examine the potential site and also the soil. A spot with natural rocks already there would be great, but if not, collect rocks from the woods, nearby roads, or beaches.

Get a good collection or rocks or perhaps you can even purchase the rocks you might need locally. In any case, you�ll need to insert the rocks carefully in the soil.

Try to make a slope to the rock garden so that you will have better sloped drainage. You�ll want the rain or snow to be able to drain easily and not stand in the rock garden, this is very important.

Keep the rock garden area open to the sky and out of the shadows of overpowering trees or even buildings. Remember if the slope is facing south there will be lots of heat in the summer and too much winter sun also.

An eastern slope is cooler than a western slope and the afternoon sun is at an angle that is better for the heat at noon than a western one.

Now construct this rock garden. Don�t bring in lots of colored rock as these are usually soft rocks and will fall apart easily. Tufa and coral rock are not native to this area, but these are well liked by plants because of their porous quality.

Very hard rocks will disintegrate slowly, but hold their outlines well. Try to turn the broken parts of the rock to the rear of the rock garden so that the overall effect will be their prettiest side.

Next you will lay the stones. Make all the vertical crevices between stones V-shaped or wider at the top, and make the smallest part of the crevice in a V-shape. When you put in a large rock, lay it upon another large rock, then lay a few flat chips or pieces of brick on the lowest stone then add soil before adding more stones. This will give you a soil strip which will give your plants room for their roots.

Don�t leave overhanging ledges as your plants will look smaller than they are when growing.

Use a soil mix of one third sand, one third garden soil and one third humus. Sometimes, you can add more sand for those plants that require the most perfect drainage or more humus for those plants that like acidity and root moisture.

Watering is usually not a problem. Don�t water with the hose or any strong force, just use very little water at a time, but do it thoroughly. It takes a little time, but your plants will thrive.

Pruning shrubs
Deciduous: Shrubs that bloom in early spring; cut out weak or dead shoots, also trim branches that have borne flowers. Prune immediately after flowering.
Shrubs that bloom in late spring; cut out dead or weak growth as well as any old hardwood branches that remain. Prune before new growth starts, usually in January until March.

Evergreen: Cut out overcrowded branches and any dead growth in early May.

Flowering hedges: Control growth after flowering occurs. Remember that there are many exceptions, so when in doubt, ask!

Butterfly or moth? Two basic identifications. Butterflies have clubbed antennae and when at rest, the wings are held together over the back. Moths have filamentous or feathered antennae and when at rest, wings are folded roof-like over the back.

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