CONTAINER SUMMER CARE
What I love about container gardening is the “low-maintenance” factor. I don’t have to weed them (remember, soilless mixes for containers are free of weed seeds), I won’t see ants under the mulch when I go to work on them, I don’t have to “edge the bed”, ugh does that take the wind out of me on a hot summer day (unless you are lucky enough to own a power edger), and I don’t have to mulch my container gardens.
But around this time of season, mid-June, is when I keep my eye out for insect damage. There may be a rare visitor taking an appetizer crunch out of the leaf, and if I found a hole ridden leaf, I just grab a clean pair of pruning scissors and snip it off. Very rarely is a spraying required. If the problem is bad enough for spraying however, you may want to move the container away from other containers, then determine what exactly is eating your plant before taking action.
Start following an inspection routine as you water your container gardens, that way, you’ll enjoying looking at the plants’ features and flowers and get the double-duty of checking for any insect damage. You may find some Japanese Beetles right now because they have grown into mature stages from their prior grub stage in the ground. I’m starting to see them. But overall, container gardens are less subject to attack, especially if you start with a healthy environment for your plant’s roots, as discussed previously on my recent television appearance covering my five musts to container gardening success. If you haven’t seen the clip, it will reair on July 4th, 2012 at 12:30 pm on the CT Style program, WTNH.com, Channel 8. Sure, you might be having a hotdog and beer then, seeing as it is July 4th, so if you can’t make it to the t.v., just visit the Video Gallery on this blog to see it.
Watering is mandatory – or forget being a successful container gardener. Direct the water at the soil, not the plants. I find “watering wands” work best for they provide a nice shower and you can reach the soil top easily. Insert your finger into the soil if you are not sure – and if it is moist, your soil moisture may be okay. Look at the plants too. If the bottom leaves are yellowing, there’s a chance you are overwatering. It is best to water in the morning if you can because the plant will use it during the day. As for hanging baskets, it is good to water until you see water dripping from the bottom drain holes. For big container gardens, you do not need to water to the point of seeing it drain from the bottom, that would be over doing it. Watering is a bit of a science and an art. It takes some practice. And I offer some more tips about the how-to’s for watering during my Container Garden parties, and on the above mentioned t.v. appearance. See my Video Gallery for more.
A couple years ago, our season received rain-rain-rain. The next season it was hot-hot-hot. Last year, we got SNOW in October. Wow, Mother Nature, as I always say, has a mind of her own. This year, the pattern appears to be a state of flux. One day it is HOT, up to 90 or even 100 degrees, and next thing you know it is cool, where I’ve actually had to grab a light sweater. What is up with that? Well, as for the tropicals, like the banana plants, elephant ears, and canna plants, they like that tropical hot weather and will perk up and thrive. The main plant I’ve had some troubles with due to the flux temperatures is my cacti. My agave and kalanchoe got a little yellow – a huge disappointment because I saved these plants in their containers all winter in my home as houseplants. They don’t like cool, wet temperatures, and hopefully that will not continue. But as the heat rises, so does our watering routine. Watering also depends on the weather – and the type of plant, another factor to consider. Pot types are also yet another factor. Black pots for example will retain more heat, clay pots will dry out faster, small pots will dry out faster than big pots. Consider your plant type, and increase the watering if they are prone to moist soils, decrease watering if the plant is prone to dry soils. If they are dessert like cacti, be careful – don’t overwater. A good sign that you have neglected watering is if you see bubbles rising out of the soil. This not good, and you may have to actually soak the pot in water! So start off right, and pay attention to our flux temperatures and react appropriately. Stressed plants are more prone to insect damage, by the way, so don’t let them get stressed. Just as with people, stress can make us look bad.
VACATIONS OR TRAVEL
Another dilemma is what to do if you go on vacation or travel for work. For me, taking a vacation in summer is a huge problem – who will water my beautiful plants while I’m gone?! But there are some things you can do to limit this challenge. Get an irrigation system setup on a timer. This is something that may require an investment and some homework, but if you have a high number of container gardens on your deck or patio, it may be worth it. Or you can group your containers together in a more shady spot so they don’t get exhausted from the sun while you are on vacation. But in my case, when I go on vacation, I make sure to water every container garden well, do the sign of the cross, and line up an assistant waterer prior, or beg a friend or family member to water while we are gone. Another trick is to fill a bucket with water, set it near your pots, and use a rope or piece of cloth to serve as a wicker that will draw the water from the bucket to the pot. It may look a little funny but it can work or help a bit of the watering situation while you are on vacation. But the bottom line is, you can not let just the natural rain fall handle watering your containers. To make it a little easier on the good friend you ask to water while away, prefill some watering cans and place them near your containers, or put out rainbarrels to capture the rainwater should a downpour happen while you are away, so they can find alternative water sources instead of just dragging the hose around. And be sure to bring them home a nice gift from wherever you traveled!
Adding slow release fertilizer granules during potting and assembly time will feed your plants between 3-4 months or 3-6 months, but there are many other fertilizer choices out there. I find if I used quality soilless mix, follow a good wateingr routine, check for insects around now, and used a slow-release fertilizer at the time of assembly, I don’t need to reapply fertilizer at all. However, some plants demand more fertilizer than others. So choices range from controlled release pellets, think a thumbnail size of granulars bound together to look all stuck together. They get inserted into the soil, where as the individual granular prills are added to the top 1 to 3 inches of the soil in container gardens during assembly. There’s also water soluble fertilizer that is mixed and applied during your watering routine. Both of these, the slow release granular prills and soluble fertilizer are inorganic types, but there are many, many choices for organics. It will breakdown at different rates in the soil, but they key is to consider whether your plant needs it in the first place. Read labels, look at your plants’ overall health, and determine if they have high fertilizer needs. Some people think plants don’t need any fertilizer, and I would have to disagree with that for plants in container gardens. Remember, the routine watering required in a container environment will leach the nutrients out plus, plants are putting out a lot of energy during our summer season to bloom and grow during warm temperatures, so be sure to add something to help them be beautiful and thrive. Don’t let them go hungry – without them, we would have no food.
I’ve updated my page on, titled “Video Gallery” with some new media – check it out. This is a place I plan to regular share tips, and also, video’s of friends’ gardening tips. Recently a friend showed me how she and her boyfriend divided asparagus ferns, with an axe! That didn’t surprise me because the root systems to this plant gets quiet strong. Unfortunately, the sound did not record, so it isn’t posted, but be on the lookout for them soon. And be sure to visit often so you don’t miss the latest. My two most recent posts show healthy roots and repeat performers. Click above to see more.
If you happen to be reading this post today, Thursday, June 28, and are free this evening, plan to attend tonight’s talk on Essential Oils. It is the perfect evening to enjoy some light bite sized appetizers, learn from a professional about the herbs used in high quality oils, and talk about plants too. See my “DIY and How-To’ page above for more. There’s still time to register – call me today: 860-977-9473. It a great evening for some review on the healing powers of plants – they are not just visible to the eye but offer many medicinal benefits. Hope you will join us – sorry bout the typo’s – I got to go – you know, to take care of my container gardens now!
Thanks for visiting! Cathy T