Container Garden Care
Gardeners enjoy the flexibility of containers for brightening up dark corners, fixing a hole in midsummer in the perennial border, keeping dogs out of the flower bed, bringing colour closer to house to the patio or deck. Below are some ideas for making sure you get the full season of enjoyment out of your container garden.
Soil in containers needs to be fairly light but also rich because the plants are closely packed in with roots competing for precious nutrients. For ease of use and convenience can buy one of the special potting soiless mixes from the nursery to ensure that you get a good mix of peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, and nutrients. These are sterile mixes so they do not contain any living microorganisms, weeds, insects or diseases. Linda Yang, The city & Town Gardener, offers her own recipe for mixing potting soil :1 part topsoil (available from local nurseries), 1 part lightener (perlite or vermiculite) and 1 part conditioner (peat moss) along with a handful of fertilizer granules for every 6 inches of pot height and a scoop of cow manure for every 6 inches. If you are going for a lighter blend to reduce weight on rooftop garden, reduce the amount of top soil, the heaviest ingredient, to be just 10% of the soil mix so that it is 1 part topsoil to 5 parts lightener and 5 parts conditioner. If you have limited strength you should be aware that mixing soils can be very strenuous work so you might want to use a premixed lighter mix. Also if you live in a 4 storey walk-up think about carrying heavy bags of topsoil up to the top floor or hauling them up to a roof. In subsequent years break up the old soil and remove about half. Then top-up and mix in new soil and fertilizer. A granular slow release fertilizer works well for plants that are closely packed into containers and fighting for air, water and nutrients.
One of the biggest disadvantages of containers is that generally they require more frequent watering than do flower or vegetable beds. In the ground plants can send out roots that adapt to the particular conditions but in a pot the plant is at the mercy of the water gods. Determining in advance how much time and effort you want to put into maintenance will help you decide what types of containers and plants to use. If you are away a lot in the summer, can't water very much for whatever reason, try to choose low maintenance drought resistant plants like sedums.
All containers will need some watering. Having water close at hand to the patio or balcony can save you countless trips to the sink and will make it easier to ensure that your pots receive enough water.If you live in an apartment, it is especially helpful to have an outside hose bib attached on the balcony. Some builders make this a standard feature but many don't even consider it necessary. If you are fortunate enough to have a hose outlet, buy the shortest hose that will allow to reach everywhere on your deck. The shorter the hose the lighter it is making it easier to to maneuver and hang up afterwards. Usually 25 feet with a 1/2" diameter us adequate. Try using the moisture retention granules that are available. They absorb water and release it back into the soil when it dries out. Be sure to place the granules at least several inches below the surface where the roots of the plants will be able to get at the water. For more information and tips on watering see : Watering and Watering Tips
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