As you plan for the flower beds you are going to plant and enjoy this year, spare a moment to think about containers.
Flexible, moveable, colorful and versatile, they add so many qualities to your garden, patio steps and porch. And you are not limited to traditional pots and hanging baskets, although they can be wonderful, but open your eyes to all the things you have on hand that could be planted up and provide an accent in the landscape.
Just to list a random selection of containers, do you have an old wheelbarrow, basket, coal scuttle, sink, boot, coffee pot, saucepan, barrel or bucket - the more weather-beaten, the better? Anything can be converted to act as a container, just be sure you allow for effective drainage. If it does not have drainage holes, a traditional pot can be placed inside the container, with stones or gravel to catch the water as it drains through.
The location is important if you select something too heavy to move around. Sun or shade, or a combination, will work, as long as you choose plants adapted to the conditions. And generally avoid windy spots, which can increase watering needs, cause breakage of tall plants, and even blow over and break pots. Smaller containers can follow the sun or shade and be moved around at will.
Now for filling. Don't use just garden soil, however good it may be. You need a potting mix, either homemade or purchased. A basic recipe would be one-third garden soil, one-third peat moss or compost and one-third perlite or vermiculite. Mix well, and adding some water-holding crystals will be useful. If you add fertilizer when setting up your containers, be sparing with it. Slow-release is the best. You do not want to stimulate a lot of above-ground growth for the first weeks while the plants are settling in and they should be concentrating on root growth.
Just about any plant can flourish in a container, if it has the proper light and water. Select plants that have the same needs, are appropriate for the site you have chosen, and go well together. Containers do dry out fast, and should be checked daily to see if they need water.
I have never been able to test this reliably by putting a finger into the soil. I use an inexpensive water-metering device you just stick into the soil, and a dial registers from dry through moist to wet. I keep one outside and a couple in the house for seedlings and house plants, and they are invaluable for me. They can be found at discount stores as well as garden centers.
Rain water is the best to use, and I have barrels under downspouts to catch as much as possible. I also keep a large trash barrel for water in the vegetable garden, and fill it with the hose when needed. I can just dip a bucket or watering can into the barrel to water plants in need. This gives time for the chlorine in the water to evaporate and also removes the need to haul the heavy hose around from the outside faucet every time water is needed.
And then comes the fun part as you choose plants. Generally, try for something tall, such as an ornamental grass, millet, a spike or bronze fennel, which I love. Then, a trailing plant is good, and you might consider sweet potato vine, lamium, licorice vine or bacopa to soften the look. And for filler, the nurseries are full of wonderful color at this time. Choose petunias, coleus, geraniums, lobelia, alyssum, impatiens, verbena or whatever.
This is one of the most exciting and rewarding times of year for the gardener. Enjoy it!
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
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