Spring Gardening Part 2
More Hints for Container-Garden Success
By Julie Dean Kessler
When our May issue went live we ran Part I of a feature about early spring planting. An avid gardener, our writer Julie Dean Kessler has so much to say on the subject that we are adding a Part II to her story. But never fear--if you've been too busy to read Part I you can still catch up by simply scrolling down the page. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, catch up on your reading and then head out to your closest Beach Coast garden center!
Create Patio Envy
So you’ve selected some seed packets by now and you may have done some planting (or not –no judgment here). But if your flower-hungry soul is begging for blooms now, go get some annuals or perennials with buds or blossoms all ready to brighten your little corner of the world!
Before stuffing the trunk with flats of flowers, let’s take stock.
First, ponder placement of pots and whatever other containers you’ve decided to repurpose for planting. Add beauty and drama to your deck/patio garden by varying the heights of pots for a terraced effect where we know perfectly well there is no terrace. Grab that small, tall table with the wrought-iron legs and bring it to the deck to hold a pot higher. Make a pot stand even taller on top of an old crate with the little table on top of that. Turn an old, empty pot upside-down to support a container at a different height.
For smaller pots, you can even mount shelves, one above another, on the house, if you’re so inclined and your mate doesn’t cause a fuss. Just be sure to use sturdy shelving and brackets. This is a great way to add more plants to a small space.
Did you blink a little at “annuals” and “perennials”? Simple: Perennials come back all by themselves, year after year. Annuals don’t. There. After that it gets a little more complicated. If you want to go with perennials, be prepared to pot properly and to maintain them.
Choose perennials that are hardy in two zones lower than your own. So for northern Indiana’s Zone 5 and southwest Michigan’s Zone 6, select perennials that do well in Zones 3 and 4, respectively. A quick Internet search will tell you how to manage watering and fertilizing
If you chafe at having to wait for them to fill in the rest of the pot, just plant a few annuals in with them for this season.
Best choose pots that will survive overwintering. Ceramic and terra cotta pots are prone to cracking and breaking with thaws and freezes, so choose containers of wood, fiberglass, etc. Otherwise you’re lugging heavy, soil-filled pots to a heated garage or to the basement, and we shudder at the thought, don’t we?
Better World, Now
On to the annuals! The dear little things are tucked into plastic containers, with so many of those tucked into a flat. You can buy more mature plants in larger containers; it’s more economical to get the smaller ones and let them achieve greatness right before your eyes.
Choose annuals that grow to different heights, so you can stack them terrace-style. Some combos are classic and classy. Geraniums, spikes, and vinca look great together, for example. You can come up with your own combos; most annuals get along together in one container quite nicely.
A great way to add visual interest -- and hide crates and well-worn containers -- is with hanging greenery. Vinca grows fast and will be sweeping the floor of your deck before you know it. Be brave and snip off those ends -- they’ll grow back with added stems. Planting Creeping Jenny in a row will give you a lovely Garden of Babylon effect, and it will staunchly survive well into early winter.
a Colorful Punch
Bunching like colors together adds visual impact. Remember that some vegetables will have lovely blossoms. Mixing vegetables and flowers (not in the same pot) makes for an interesting garden.
If you have a shady spot, no worries. Coleus grows fast and is available in various hues. Salvia and impatiens will actually wilt in full sun, so let them brighten darker corners, like near a door with an overhang.
Read the instructions on those little plastic stakes! But we will confess to one thing: Impatient as we tend to be, we’ve tucked more than the recommended number of annuals in one space for a quicker filling in. Marigolds, petunias and other blooming darlings haven’t minded a bit.
What they will mind is not having enough water. Decks especially can get quite hot, so watering will be a daily necessity when summer sets in. Set up your garden hose so you can get at it easily. Early-morning watering is best. Do it at noon and you will have steamed plants. Night watering promotes fungi. Ew.
Now that you’re coming home to a haven of colors and scents, stop on your way by to pinch off dead blooms. This will spruce up your garden and promote more blooming.
And isn’t that what we wanted from the start?
Spring Gardening Part 1
Turn Your Tiny Patio into a Flowery Retreat
“But I’ve no place for a garden,” you moan.
We hear you. But we beg to differ. If you have so much as an itty bitty patio or deck, you can have a container garden. Seriously. Cascades of foliage and bright bunches of blooms can be yours.
Now wait a minute – before you dash off to stand in front of row after row of flats brimming with darling little annuals, consider planting seeds instead. You can start them inside before a sunny window or under a “grow light,” which is basically any light that is positioned close to the seed containers. Bunch the containers together for maximum light for all the seeds; depending on how ambitious you are, you may need more than one light.
If you decide to start seeds indoors, you’ll want to check out which flower or vegetable variety is quick or slow to germinate. Memorial Day is the traditional time to begin serious outdoor gardening for Indiana’s Zone 5 and Michigan’s Zone 6, so you’ll want to start indoor plants that have a longer germination period. Herbs are great to start indoors; you can have lots of varieties in tiny pots, then transfer the whole dirt ball into larger pots outdoors. Example: Extra Triple Curled parsley, very pretty for gardens and garnish; it’s 21-28 days to germination.
Your Inner Farmer
Plants that pop up quickly, like green beans, can wait until favorable weather, though you should start planning now. Not to worry: We’ll help you!
Let’s not go off all willy-nilly. First, figure how many pots/containers your outdoor space will hold (or how many you want to tend); then you can decide what flowers and veggies you want and how much potting soil you’ll need. Topsoil is cheaper by the bag, but potting soil’s lighter texture treats fragile seedlings better. Get those cute mini gardening tools -- a small trowel and a three-pronged rake. Pretty-patterned cloth gardening gloves have eye appeal, sure – but your hands still get dirty, and the gloves have to be washed. Um, no thank you. Invest in a box of latex gloves. Snapping those off your hands and tossing them is ever so much easier than scrubbing your hands while you curse under your breath for that wasted manicure.
Don’t forget to buy fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers need careful mixing and application. With the dry, slow-release kind, you shake the little pellets into the soil before planting and you’re done for the summer.
What Goes Where
Whether you opt for seeds or seedlings, look for harvest dates. Leave those carrots alone until the date indicated. You can stagger plantings of beans by a couple of weeks to keep you supplied longer with a manageable amount per picking. Just a few long, narrow containers about 6 inches deep will yield day-after-day harvests of green and wax beans to steam, sauté, or serve with other crudités. Unless you have lots of space, plant bush beans. For an impressive display of higher-than-your-head greenery, plant one pot of pole beans, with a tall trellis or stick to keep its grabby vines from twisting other plants.
From Pot to Pan
Summer squash grows quite comfortably in a foot-and-a-half tall pot, with showy yellow blossoms that quickly turn into tender, tasty squash to slice and add to the sauté pan. But others, like cucumbers and pumpkins, need lots of room to ramble; not a wise choice. Tomatoes and peppers need much larger pots. Be creative and eco-friendly: Use whatever you may have that can serve as a planter. If there are no holes in the bottom, drill some or place a good layer of broken crockery on the bottom so your plants’ roots won’t drown, the poor things.
For goodness sakes read the info on seed packets and on those little plastic stakes in bedding plants; they were written by the experts. You can do this!
Julie Dean Kessler is a freelance writer who has received 35 awards in journalism including the Mark Twain Award for Excellence in Editorial Writing from the Associated Press. She also holds a master’s degree in social work, writes poetry, and tends an extensive deck garden after taking a Master Gardener course.