Ten Easy Tips
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The most important tip for container gardening: Watering needs differ greatly from "in the ground" gardening, and even between container types. If the plant dries out, it's start over time. There is no "Grace Period" for forgetfulness. In the ground, plants will seek out water, but there is no water to seek out in a dry container. There is one exception, however. If your plant is on the ground in its container, determined roots will eventually make it out of the drainage holes and down into the earth. Bay trees in tubs will do this as will some plants with far wandering root systems like mint and willow trees. In the heat of the summer, it is not unusual to water twice a day.
Fertilizing is another important aspect of container gardening success. Frequent watering will wash out fertilizer, so it is a good idea to fertilize more often at half strength. Fish emulsion at half strength every two weeks is a good rule of thumb to follow. If you are using chemical fertilizers, watch for a white residue on the soil surface, which might be salt buildup. Use a balanced product, but if green growth turns into a jungle and you would rather see flowers, choose a product made for blooming.
Soil is the third important factor for successful container gardening. Purchase soil that is specific for container plants. Avoid the temptation of using garden soil- there is no reason to introduce pests and disease. If the water drips through just a bit too fast when you water, consider adding perlite or vermiculate for water retention.
- Container Types
The larger the container, the less time you will spend watering and fertilizing, and the happier your plants will be.
Remember that herbs are mostly perennials with more demanding root systems than annual flowers or vegetables. Natural containers such as clay, wood, or ceramic, work better than metal or plastic because metal or plastic containers may get too hot in a sunny location and overheat your plants.
Containers need drainage holes, so check newly purchased pots for adequate drainage. Sometimes plastic pots need the holes punched out. If the drainage holes seem like they are large enough for soil to fall out, loosely arrange some pieces of clay or chunks of brick on the bottom of the pot to keep the soil in while retaining drainage capabilities.
- Hanging Baskets
Prepare your hanging baskets well. The secret to beautiful hanging baskets is to line them with sphagnum moss. Consider the weight of your hanging basket when it is filled with soil, plants, and then water. Drying out is a real concern for hanging baskets. It is necessary to water more than containers on the ground.
When choosing a location for your container, consider the sun source. A hot western setting sun spells doom for many plants. Hanging containers on a deciduous tree may provide a dappled sun exposure. For sun loving herbs, southern exposures will work well. For hot sites, setting the containers on soil will provide a bit more relief than on a hard surface.
Provide some air space if the containers are on a cement drive, plastic covering, or other non-soil surface. By placing plant trivets under the container, your plant has some breathing room and you've also protected whatever you've placed the container on, such as your deck, a walkway, or table.
- Good Neighbors
Plant sun lovers in the same pot with other sun lovers, plant shade preferring plants with each other also. Mints should not be mixed because their flavors will eventually mix together as well. Large plants, like Bay which can grow into a thirty foot tree, need their own tubs. Angelica needs its own space as well, and Rosemary can grow quite big under the right conditions.
- Follow the Sun
Move your containers as the sun changes during the seasons. This is the beauty of having containers. Trivets with wheels are available for easy moving. Even easier is to put your containers in an old wheel barrow or wagon and move them around your yard for seasonal changes.
- Helpful Hints
- Hot weather herbs require six to eight hours of sun each day.
- Use only environmental friendly controls for problems, or start over if a pest disease is life threatening.
- Cut no more than one third of an herb at one time.
- Check for pests and disease if plants are going to be brought in before the first frost.
- If containers are to be left out during the winter, some protection can be provided by sinking the pots into the ground and mulching according to your winter weather.