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aluminum canoe planted with yellow and purple flowers

Growing A Green Thumb; Container Basics

Spruce up a window sill, table top or porch with potted plants. Containers are portable and provide an instant fix to problem areas. DIY with container combinations of edible and flowering annuals (single season) and perennials (live more than one year). Let’s ease into container gardening with these tips for success.

Pick Your Neighbors

Garden centers can be visually overwhelming. This is good. It means marketing is working. Plants with similar light and water needs make better neighbors. Narrow plant choices by reading plant tags. They contain valuable information such as;
> how deeply to plant
> amount of sun/shade needed
> maximum size
> water requirement
> plant spacing

A garden pot with a single plant may be beautiful. Combining spikey, mounding, frilly or cascading plants adds interest. Allow space for growth so container is full, but not crowded. Include annual (single season), perennial (live more than one year), edibles and herbs for variety. BONUS:  Beautiful and tasty  edibles like chives, lettuce, hot peppers, cherry tomato and patio eggplant are dual purpose. Once they’re done for the season, replace with a fresh ornamental.

Pink yarrow, white pentas and red portulaca fill this garden pot

Yarrow, white pentas and fushia portulaca fill a plastic hanging planter (minus the chain). Friends gave her the old metal planter stand. Voila!

Show Off What You’ve Got

Vuja de, looking at something with new eyes. If only I had a dollar every time the man of the mower said “what are you going to do with that?”  Look around for a likely container. Garden pots come in variety of materials and sizes. Here are some tips for container selection and placement.assortement of different sized garden pots

  • Large containers will be heavy when filled. As are stone, terra cotta and concrete. Put them in place before planting.
  • Match size of plant at maturity to container. Upright tall plants are more stable in wide-based containers.
  • Garden pots may be pre-drilled, some with removable plugs. All will need drainage holes.
  • Protect surfaces under garden pots. Catch excess irrigation in a saucer.
  • If you like the silhouette but not the color, spray paint it!
  • Media in small pots tend to dry out faster, requiring more frequent watering.
  • a second set of decorative pots allows you switch out as plants decline.

Self-cleaning plants continue flowering even if old blooms are not removed. Others require grooming to stay tidy. Remove shriveled blooms to prevent the plant from producing seeds. Energy spent growing seed is redirected into growth. Pinching back or tip pruning helps keep plants compact and may extend blooming season.

 

gutter collects water drained from buckets holding tomatoes

gutter channels drained water into catch basin (blue tote) for reuse

Fertilizer

Slow release or time release fertilizer will provide steady supply of nutrients, over the growing season.  Since roots are confined in a limited amount of soil, follow fertilizer recommendations. Overfertilization can “burn” roots. As mositure moves out of the roots, the result is dessication and root death.

Organic vs. synthetic fertilizer. Plants don’t know the difference. Water soluble fertilizer quickly leaches due to frequent watering. If plants are pot bound, circling roots need to be teased apart before planting. Otherwise, no amount of fertilizer will produce desired results.

Potting Soil – Pre-bagged potting mix may be sterile and not contain any soil.  Mix should be lightweight and airy with space for water, air and root growth. Ingredients read like a multi-vitamin label.

tomatoes planted in 5 gallon buckets

tomatoes planted in five-gallon buckets

> Perlite – naturally occurring mineral, neutral pH. Helps will soil aeration and drainage. Irregular shaped particles can be compressed so don’t knead it. If your plants need well drained soils, look for this on the ingredients label.
> Vermiculite- naturally occurring mineral that absorbs water. Does not aerate the soils as well as perlite.
> Peat moss – from bog or wet land areas. Helps aerate soils without being waterlogged. Will decompose over time.
> Water retention beads and fertilizer may be included.

Plants, both large and small can suffer transplant shock. Water the plant well before gently slipping it from the nursery pot. Roots should be whitish and plump not dry and shriveled. If roots are circling, tease them apart before planting. As plants mature, they may need to be potted up to a larger container. Or divided and replanted to continue blooming. pink flowers top succulant green leaves with another plant cascading down the sides of blue container.

Pests and Disease

Cultural practices like providing sun, water and fertilizer requirements produces healthier plants. Mismatching plants, like blue flag iris requiring wetter soils with one preferring well drained media, like marigold, results in two very unhappy plants. One will be overwatered and the other, under-watered. Stressed plants are not able to resist pest and disease pressure as well as healthy plants.

Roots are the primary organ for water and nutrient uptake. Prevent fungal issues by watering the roots, not the leaves. If the leaves are dirty, wipe with damp cloth or spray with water and allow to air dry. Otherwise try to keep foliage dry and water at the soil level. Look for chewed leaves, holes, curled leaves, webbing or insects themselves. Before bringing in cold-tender plants, check for and remove unwanted hitchhikers.wooden wagon supports yellow garden pots with yellow and white flowers

Resources

University of Florida online resources are available 24/7. Use the search feature at UF’s Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/. Dig deeper with annual plants, perennials and container gardens for outdoor spaces.

Good luck with your container garden! Let me know how it goes. Spread Joy until we meet again!

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