Container gardening is good for all seasons, but the best season to start off your containers is now, in early summer. Getting your containers started and planted can be a messy business, but, if done correctly, will allow you the benefit of their health and beauty throughout the season.
A successful container garden consists of the following factors: the container selected, setting up your container, the plants you select, maintenance, and, of course, design.
You only need to do a little window shopping in some of Larchmont’s garden and décor shops to see that containers are available in a wide variety of materials, sizes and colors. Stay away from materials that can rot (soft woods like pine), pressure treated lumber, and wood treated with creosote or other chemicals, since leaching chemicals can damage the plants, or even worse, be absorbed by your vegetables or herbs. Plastic usually isn’t a good choice because it breaks down in sunlight and, if you plan to place your container in direct sunlight, terra cotta (clay) pots dry out rapidly and may need watering several times a day.
Redwood or cedar containers are excellent choices, as are glazed ceramic and cement containers.
TIP: to “age” a new concrete or terra cotta container, rub yogurt and a little live moss onto the outsides. The yogurt will help promote moss growth, and you’ll have a mossy, “old” looking container in no time.
Try to use as large a container as possible. Smaller pots tend to restrict root growth and dry the roots out more quickly. Larger pots hold water longer and promote better root growth. The size and number of plants you plan to grow should determine the size of the container used. Deep rooted vegetables require deeper containers.
If you plan to place your container in direct sunlight, you may want to consider a light colored container, so it will stay cool for the plants’ roots. Many items can be used successfully as containers: there is a beautiful, plant filled bathtub right on Larchmont Avenue.
Whatever container you select, it must have adequate drainage. At a minimum, there should be one hole in the bottom or several holes for larger containers.
Drainage, Drainage, Drainage
We’ve just gone through the coldest, wettest June in recorded history. If your containers are holding more water than the Shore Club swimming pool, you do not have adequate drainage and are at risk of rotting your plants’ roots. Do not add any material such as Styrofoam peanuts or shards of broken pottery. This only makes drainage worse. Instead, start with a well-draining soil, or rather a soil-less potting mix. Besides draining quickly, soilless mixes are lightweight and free from soil- borne diseases and weed seeds. For even better drainage, add some coarse sand. Never use garden soil in containers. It will quickly become compacted and waterlogged.
After you have selected your potting mix and added it to your container, leave a 2-inch space between the top of the soil and the top of the container. You can add a 1/2 inch of mulch after you have planted, which will hold moisture in your container and keep the weeds at bay.
The Thrill, The Spill and The Fill
One suggestion in planting a container is to aim for what’s called the “thrill, fill and spill.” The thrill is the eye catcher and rises high from the middle of the pot. The fill is just that, your filler plant that takes up most of the space in the container. And, the spill is the plant that spills over the side of the container and gives a finished look.
When designing your container, consider not only the colors, but also the shapes of your plants. Do you want to plant in individual containers, mixed plant containers, or a series of containers? Use the shapes to complement and contrast with each other. Also, don’t forget to consider how large your plants will grow. If you have a window box on a window you look out of, you might not want to block your view, even if it is through a beautiful plant.
Some examples of different plant shapes: “Thrill” plants include snapdragons, and New Zealand flax. “Fill” plants can be impatiens and lavender. The “Spill” could be lobelia and ivy. Besides the aforementioned plants, some annuals which do well in containers are alyssum, begonia, browallia, coleus, geraniums, lantana, marigolds, periwinkle, nasturtiums, pansies, petunias, salvia, sanvitalia, thunbergia and zinnias.
In Larchmont, where land is sold at a premium, you may not have room or enough light for a vegetable garden. Consider planting several crops of quick maturing vegetables in a container. Cherry tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can be easily grown in containers, as can root vegetables such as baby carrots, radishes or spring onions. Try mixing some herbs and leaf lettuces around your tomatoes or peppers. Small salad greens, such as oak leaf lettuce and mustard cress, or vegetables with quick maturing periods, such as silver beet, work well.
Beans, carrots, Swiss chard and green onions can all be planted from seed now. Radishes and cool-season leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and kale can be planted when the weather cools off at the end of the summer.
Keep it Up: Maintenance
Your container garden will need at least five hours of direct sunlight a day, many plants like even more. As a general rule, leafy vegetables tolerate the most shade, while root crops (such as beets and carrots) need more light. Fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, need the most sun. The amount of sunlight needed by different flowers varies. Usually, the flower’s sunlight requirements will be on the seed pack or available when you purchase the plant.
When it’s not raining like the Great Flood, container plants lose moisture quickly, especially if they are placed in the sun. Some plants need to be watered daily, especially during hot, dry weather. Most will need to be watered every other day.
The increased rain over the last month may have washed away a significant amount of nutrients from the soil. These can be quickly replaced with a liquid fertilizer. However, even under normal weather conditions, important nutrients will be washed out of the container as you water and, remember, plants in containers have a very limited area from which they get their nutrients. It’s a good idea to use a half-strength fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, liquid seaweed or a water-soluble 5-10-5 fertilizer every week on annuals.
• Repeat the same colors. This is a great way to achieve a full look.
• In small areas use matching containers in different sizes.
• Larger areas allow you to use lots of pots where you can mix sizes, styles, and shapes.
• Raising some containers higher than others adds emphasis and puts the plants at a better viewing level.
• In Larchmont, where they thrive, Japanese maples make a striking specimen tree in a container.
• Uneven numbers of items are visually more appealing than even numbers. The most visually effective groupings use a minimum of three plants and as many as dozens.
Sme Things To Do in July:
1. With the recent rains, stay out of the garden until it has drained enough so that you can work the soil without fear of compaction.
2. Evaluate plants that are stressed due to the level of rainfall. Relocate dead or rotting plants to your compost pile.
3. Higher levels of heat mean decreased root growth and increased shoot growth in your lawns. Remind your gardeners not to cut more than one-third of the shoot per mowing.
4. Deadhead repeat bloomers to encourage a second round of flowers.