IN THE GARDEN: Picking the right pot
Whether you have a planter box on your apartment deck, a pot or hanging basket in your front or back yard sunny location, growing in containers is fun and easy. A small yard doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden, and containers are a perfect way to grow vegetables, flowers and herbs. I encourage you to give it a try.
The Alaskan urban gardener can take advantage of the convenience of containers that can be moved inside if a danger of frost at night is predicted. Especially helpful are the plant rollers that can be purchased and placed under your pots to move your plants easily. It would be nice to have about five of these at least!
One of the most important considerations to container gardening is the quality of soil and proper drainage. A good potting soil is preferred in containers. Regular outside soil is too dense for containers. Our local businesses carry a good supply of nice potting soils.
Practically any container can be used as long as there are plenty of drainage holes. I have seen numerous examples of creative container gardening to include boots, shoes, wooden boxes, closet shoe storage bags, old tires, PVC pipe with planting holes, old watering cans and many other repurposed items. Traditionally, clay, plastic and ceramic pots are used as containers for the most part. I marvel at the creativity of these unusual pots and that flowers and plants can actually grow in them.
Disinfect your pots before use with hot soapy water and a small amount of bleach. Allow the pots to air dry.
When planting in containers, there are special varieties of plants that you can buy that will work better than others. The nurseries and greenhouses can give you examples of these. Seed companies are selling special varieties of tomatoes especially for containers and I am trying some this summer.
There are advantages to container gardening such as less soil preparation and fewer weeds. You can also move your plants around to take advantage of shade or sun. The convenience of having herbs, veggies and salad makings at your fingertips on the deck to grab for cooking is definitely a plus.
Container gardens require regular feeding with a water soluble organic fertilizer to continue to grow well. Follow directions carefully on the products and you should definitely not overdo it. A fertilizer higher in nitrogen for green leafy plants and vegetables and a fertilizer higher in phosphorous for flowering fruits and vegetables is helpful to promote optimal growth. The three numbers that are listed on fertilizers are explained as follows: nitrogen is the first number; phosphorus is the second and potassium the third — in that order. All of these elements are important to the growth of container plants because they are not in the ground and with watering are lost over time through the drainage holes.
To avoid the common pitfalls of container gardening, consider the following suggestions:
Do not overwater the container. One way to check for moisture is to push your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. My sons for Mothers Day bought me a tool to measure moisture, light and PH when you push it in the soil and it works fantastic! I love technology! This rule is a problem for me as I tend to overwater my plants.
Under watering can also be a concern for container gardening. Make sure to water your containers times two until you see the water coming out of the pot freely and then when needed.
Educate yourself about your plant’s needs ahead of time. What does this plant require to grow successfully? Plant care is easily searchable on the web. Our library has many books on plant care.
Your plant will tell you if it is getting too much or too little light by the condition of its leaves. Too much light can appear on your leaves as having a scorched appearance. Plants with not enough light will be seen to be leggy and reaching toward the light.
Plants that are root bound and have poor soil will not do well. I routinely repot my plants in containers yearly and this makes a huge difference in their appearance and growth. Be sure and prune back unhealthy and dead branches and roots.
Always be on the lookout for pests on your plants and pick them off or spray them off with water. If pests persist, ask your nursery for suggestions on what products can be safely used to protect bees and butterflies. Ladybugs are great for use in greenhouses.
Over fertilization can harm and kill your plants. I know from experience that over fertilization can damage a plant and it is obvious by yellowing and wilting and dropping of leaves, browning of leaf tips and slowing of growth. Counterproductive for sure! I write down on a calendar now when I last fertilized my plants so as to not overdo it. Also, I follow the directions on the package very carefully. Observing how your plants look can tell you a lot about their health. A journal is helpful to keep a record of planting, care and observation of the plant over time.
Carelessness is another way to kill your container garden. Going on vacation and not having a plan for the proper care of your plants is definitely a problem you want to avoid.
The benefits greatly outweigh any challenges with container gardening. All of these above suggestions will help you avoid the pitfalls that others have experienced and freely choose to share with you here. Enjoy!
Remember we must, “stay calm and garden on”.
Invasive Plant Alert: Weed Them and Reap!
A biennial weed, bull thistle (or Cirsium Vulgare) is from the sunflower family. This is an erect plant that starts the first year as a fleshy taproot and a rosette forms. The next year a stem elongates to be 2-5 feet tall and has a purple flower with a ray floret appearance. Primarily found on disturbed sites and roadsides. Currently seen in Anchorage, Haines and Prince of Wales Island. Thought to have hitchhiked here in root balls of trees and from seeds in tires.
Stop it by pulling up and also report the sighting to the Cooperative Extension Service.
Chris Wood is a certified master gardener from Eagle River. Got a column idea or question you’d like to see answered? Write to Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org