Choosing a Pot for Your Container Garden

by Chris McLaughlin

Whether you’re growing flowers, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, or small trees, container gardening has made a big comeback and in my opinion, it’s a trend that’s here to stay. These mini-gardens are fast, simple, versatile, and beautiful which makes them popular with all gardeners; no matter how much space they have to work with.

The real challenge comes when you’re standing in the center of a virtual sea of pots and containers — how do you decide which ones to bring home? Well, truthfully, that answer lies with you and your plants. There are pros and cons to everything, so here’s the low-down on the various container materials so that you can decide which is the perfect pot.

Terra-cotta — Probably the most well-known and well-used type of container anywhere, it’s produced in an endless variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. Terra-cotta is also less expensive than many other containers. Make sure a terra-cotta container is frost resistant (check for labeling); otherwise, it could crack during the cold months. Be aware that terra-cotta tends to dry out faster than most other planting containers.

Plastic — Plastic is rather a win-win. It’s nonporous, so the soil tends to stay moist longer than in terra-cotta. These containers are also lightweight and therefore very easy to move around, even after being filled with soil and planted. However, you may have to really look around to find one that’s honestly attractive.

Wood — Wood is a great material that looks natural with vegetable plantings. There are small tubs, half-barrels, and troughs made of wood. They’re typically not expensive, with the exception of the monster-sized half-barrels. I tend to like wood containers because I can paint them any color I want, year after year. They can also be varnished to help prolong their lives.

Glazed Stoneware — I love the glazed stoneware pots for both ornamentals and vegetables. They’re usually quite frost resistant and come in lovely shades. Typically the glazed pots are a basic round or square-shaped container, but I’ve seen them in other shapes, as well. Because they’re glazed, they hold in that precious moisture much better than terra-cotta.

Fiberglass — Fiberglass containers also hold moisture well and their light weight makes them extremely easy to move around. Generally, they’re shaped like other, more pricey containers (glazed, copper, stone, etc)[md]which is a plus, aesthetically. The only downside is that they break or crack easier than the more expensive ones.

Metal — This includes those containers made of copper and galvanized steel, too. Although it can be perfect for the right setting, pure metal is quite contemporary and isn’t “warm” enough for me. If contemporary describes the style of your balcony or porch, it may be the right choice for you. Be careful, though. Roots will warm up extremely fast in this type of container and will freeze just as quickly in the winter.

Concrete and Stone — Natural stone and even concrete containers can be beautiful and house vegetables nicely

. These are probably the most expensive type of containers to purchase. The only drawback is that, once they’re filled with soil, planted, and then watered, you won’t want to move them. So find a nice little spot for them to live for the entire season.

Recycled Containers — Nearly anything is fair game when looking for a container to recycle as a planter. All they need to have is drainage holes. Old wheelbarrows, shoes, plastic cat-litter containers, rusty buckets, tool boxes, BBQs, bicycle baskets, Easter baskets, and the kitchen sink are all fair game.

Local home-improvement centers, garden centers, and nurseries will have most of the container types below. But the smaller, independent shops will have some of the more original and fabulous gems.

Photo Credits:

1. Planted container by SBT4Now
2. Glazed pots by Crinklecrankle
3. Planted sifter by Rustiqueart

 

If Plants Could Walk

by Sandy Swegel

They’d run for their lives!  This week anyway.  Extreme weather conditions prevail here in Colorado and throughout the country.  Here in Boulder, we’re enduring day after day of record-setting temps over 100.  Plants are crisping just from the 4% humidity.  And as we learned in our last severe drought in 2002, no matter how much city water you irrigate with, plants don’t do as well with irrigation as they do with natural water from rain.  If my plants had legs this week, they would mosey on over to the shade next to the irrigation ditch for respite.

While we bake in the heat, my sister took her annual vacation to Florida so she could sit on the beach in the middle of Tropical Storm Debby.  Plants in some areas of the Gulf Coast desperately yearn for legs this week.  If only they could walk they would get out of the downpour of hard pelting rain and lift their feet out of the bog and mire that soil has become with excessive rain.  How’s a plant supposed to live when its roots are stuck in wet muck putrifying in the heat.

The happiest plants in dire weather can be the ones in containers with a doting human around.  My neighbor nudges her containers on wheels into the shade when the western sun is too debilitating.  Even her tomato loves the respite from the blazing sun.  Unlike my spinach, hers isn’t bolting because now that summer is upon us, she moved her containers of greens under the apple trees where cooling misters cool the greens enough they don’t have to bolt yet…and the apples grow big with the bit of extra water from the misters. One pot of summer greens was fortunate and moved inside into the air conditioning in a sunroom so the family could enjoy sweet lettuce greens a little longer.

Alas, for plants without feet, all you can do is offer some respite from the weather.  Shade cloth or row cover judiciously placed now might save some plants facing death from heat exhaustion.  If that’s not possible, a judicious mid-day misting sometimes helps.  The water mist may help the plant survive desiccation and it certainly helps perk up the gardener.

Plants that really need feet this week are the ones burning to death in the Colorado wildfires.  There are eight major wildfires in Colorado and over half of the wild-fire fighting crews in the US are in Colorado now.  We are so grateful to the men and women who come from near and far to battle out-of-control wildfires in 100-degree temps in heavy gear.  Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.

 

Survive the Heat

by Sandy Swegel

It’s hot hot hot here in Colorado and to make it worse, smoke from the wildfires out of control has caused local authorities to issue “stay indoors” advisories.  We’re all suffering, plants especially since they can’t get up and come inside away from the heat and particulate pollution.  How can we help our plants when they are stressed?

Don’t overwater.  A little extra water is good now, especially since air humidity is almost nonexistent, but you can easily kill your plants with overwatering.  Droopy leaves can also mean intense air heat, not just lack of water in the soil.  Put your finger in the soil to see if it is really dry before you water again.

Recognize Heat Stress.  The easiest way to recognize heat stress in plants is to wait until after it is cool in the evening.  If the plant perks up and stands tall again, you have confirmation that the plant was droopy because it was trying to conserve water loss to evaporation.

Make Some Shade.  It can easily be 15 degrees cooler in the shade.  You can make some temporary shade for your plants with shade cloth, row cover or burlap.  If you have coffee roasting companies near you, they usually have lots of free burlap coffee bags.  Last year my neighbor had enough row cover for one section of peas.  Those peas produced for another two weeks, while the uncovered peas just went to seed.

Mist mid-day.  Another neighbor has magnificent salad greens throughout much of the summer and says it’s because she waters/mists every day at 1 pm.  Just like in the grocery produce section, little misters come on for two minutes and cool everything down.  Scientifically, I know that humidity is gone quickly and misting should only work if you do it every hour, but her greens are pretty amazing.

Be More Vigilant for Pests.  Any stress such as heat on a plant makes them more susceptible to pests.  Keep an eye out for more pests than usual.  Hosing aphids off gives the plant and the gardener a little more humidity.

Mulch, if needed.  A couple inches straw or grass clippings will hold water in the soil and cool the roots.  If you didn’t mulch earlier, now is a good time to start.

Check containers to see if they needed to be watered twice a day.

Protect the gardener.  Drinks lots of water.  Getting dehydrated is easy and the gardener needs a clear head so he/she can take care of the garden. Wear hats and sunscreen.  And now in Colorado, wear a dust mask to prevent inhaling too much smoke from fires 90 miles away.

 

Playing with Flowers

by Sandy Swegel

Even though I don’t have a cutting garden, I love to bring flowers into the house, especially delicate fragile ones that can disappear in a formal arrangement.  This morning on a walk through an abandoned lot, I saw some pretty blue flax.  I snipped them and a few lacy poppies that will only last the day, accompanied by a beautiful yellow salsify weed flower.  In a tall skinny vase that holds the weak stems up, this looks sweet and restful in the window over my kitchen sink and reminds me all day of the peace of the early morning walk.

Vase with blooms from the garden.

It’s peony season here, and I adore a peony floating in some water.  I took one somewhat spent peony and floated it in an old circa 1960s blue glass ashtray.  I set it on the corner of my desk, to distract me from too much internet browsing.

Floating flowers is a favorite activity of mine and the many inexpensive hor d’ oeuvres serving plates Crate and Barrel sells.  Tiny shrub roses float along the curving ridges of the platter and make a beautiful dinner table centerpiece.  Sometimes I put in a floating candle or two amid the blossoms.

If all the rose blossoms are spent, I can do as a neighbor does: gather them up and put them in water bowls each day on both sides of the steps up her entryway. It gives a calm Zen-like presence to her door and brings a smile to the guests and the postman.

Small glass with red rose blooms.

Finally, I return to my Southern roots where we always put flowers out in the “guest” bathroom or a tiny vase in the guest bedroom if someone was coming to visit.  Tall shot glasses sturdily hold a tiny rose bouquet.  These little delicacies of nature remind our guests how special we think they are.

Nature puts such beauty in our path in Summer.  How can we resist playing with all those flowers and bringing them indoors to visit with us?

 

4 Things to Learn from Botanic Gardens

Waterwise strip of plantings at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

by Sandy Swegel

I’ve been going to our local (and extraordinary) botanic gardens, The Denver Botanic Gardens, DBG, every two weeks this year.  Every year I intend to go but get busy and only get there once or so.  But I bought a family membership that included six tickets per visit….so now I’m getting to see the gardens and making new friends every time because I invite all kinds of people so I don’t “waste” the tickets.  Even though I’m a professional gardener and am in other people’s landscapes all the time, I am learning so much. I encourage you to go with observant eyes and watch how public gardens are designed and managed. (On the weeks I don’t go to the DBG, I take a hike in the nearby foothills to see how Mother Nature designs and manages gardens. She’s a bit messier.)

Some of the things I’ve learned this last week:

Plants want to Mingle.  Although DBG tags its plants so we know what is what, they aren’t really a single specimen sitting alone…all the plants grow next to one another and through each others’ branches and leaves.  A tall flower that falls doesn’t need to be staked right away…it starts to grow up toward the light from its down position and still looks great growing out of the groundcover.  Trees and giant viburnums are all artfully pruned so they send long arms through each other, never having to stand alone.  Old trees keep their place, but new ones of a different variety are planted nearby. The old one’s broken trunk and nasty gashes are covered and the new tree doesn’t look so scraggly.

The same plant can look so different in another setting.  The DBG has a policy of gentle tolerance toward reseeding plants.  As long as they look good and aren’t choking out other plants, the repetition of a salvia or verbena from one display garden to another gives a feeling of unity to the entire area.

Giant Buddleia bush at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Giant plants look great at the periphery.  Giant shrub viburnums or 15-foot tall lilacs or this massive Buddleja alternifolia ‘Argentea’ planted along the far back of a garden area are stately and give a sense of structure and enclosure to a garden. Some of the nearby trees seem small in comparison.  But a garden full of small plants can look like just a lot of little things that are hard to distinguish from one another.

Use more Art and Light and Water.  Sculptural pieces of art, strategically placed solar lights, and even very small water features turn a garden from beautiful into delightful!  As dusk descends on the Denver Botanic Gardens, strands of lights and solitary spotlights come on turning what was a lovely day into a magical evening.

Tour your local Botanic Garden soon.  You’ll find like I did, the inspiration for dozens of ways to do things differently in your garden.

http://www.botanicgardens.org/

Photo credits: Sandy Swegel