Monday, May 2, 2011

Tutorial for Planting Planters and Container Gardening in General….

Middle of August and Still going strong! 

I’ve always loved container gardening!  You may have seen my tutorial about the exchange planters I am doing this year.   I’ve had several people ask me in the past how my planters look so full and lush all season.   

Here’s what I do.  Click on the pictures for a larger view! 

1.     I exchange at least half of the soil in a container each year, with new potting soil.   Where does the old half go?  Well, usually some of it has washed out through numerous waterings all summer.  Also, when I pull the old plants out, there is the soil that is clinging to the roots.   The other part of the half that I pull out goes to a pile I like to call “Dirt Heaven”.  It gets mixed in with the compost or to help lighten up clay soil around the yard.  After all, it’s bark, vermiculite, perlite, and peat for the most part.  So I usually dump the entire pot out into the wheelbarrow. 

2. Think of it as “Soil lasagna”… when filling the pots, use equal parts of old soil, new soil in layers until the pot is about 2” from the top.   Mix it well, so that you can’t tell where the two different soils are.  (This does work best if the old soil is slightly moist.  I always try to water my old pots a couple days before I’m going to work with them.  If they are too wet, it’s a soggy mess.)

Remember to pull out those
old tangled root pieces!

My “Soil Lasagna”.  This is half old potting soil, half new potting soil.  It’s about 2” from the top of the pot.
(Don’t try to use regular garden soil for container plants.  It just doesn’t drain right, and you’ll have a soggy, muddy mess.  Please don’t ask me how I know this.)

         3.  Add moisture pellets and a good fertilizer.    I personally like Osmocote 14-14-14 for this.  It lasts for 4 months…. And fertizes every day.    
You can buy potting mix by Miracle Grow ( and other companies )that already has these mixed in, but I like to do it myself.  It is about half the price, and I have more control over what goes in.  A little of the moisture crystals go a long way, and one jar has lasted me a couple of years or more.  

This is just one brand of the moisture crystals.

Osmocote 14-14-14
A good, all purpose fertilizer

Follow the instructions on the package .  Sprinkle both on the surface… Mix Well! 

Find the plants you want to put into the planter. 

Here is a little side tutorial for those not familiar with the moisture crystals.

These little guys will be a lifesaver in the heat of summer.  They help hold moisture in the soil, and then slowly dry up, releasing the moisture as they do.   (Just remember that if your pot goes totally dry… it will take a very good soaking to plump them back up.)

I put about ¼ teaspoon into this little container.

I added about ½ teaspoon of water

I waited about 30 minutes

See the little  “cubes” of gel?  That is what they turned into.
Some have asked me why I don’t add the moisture crystals to all the soil… I want my roots deeper than the top 1 or 2” of soil, so if the crystals are lower, it will “invite” better root growth.  The other reason is… if you have the crystals in the top, they tend to “float”, and then it looks like “jellyfish” have invaded your planters.

4.  Let’s get to planting!  I like my pots very full!  I never read the spacing requirements when doing pots.  {If you have ever looked closely at those beautiful pots at the garden center that cost $50.00 or more, you will notice that they are packed tight!}  I can buy a lot of plant starts for $50.00… in fact… I can usually plant 5-6 full planters for that price!   It depends on how many premiums I put in, and if I got them all on sale or not.

This planter has a spot for tomatoes or other trailers to grow out of the bottom. 

I am doing Early Girl tomatoes in this one, so the tomato goes in BEFORE I start my “soil lasagna”

This is what it looks like before building up my soil.  See the tomato root ball sticking up in the center? 

I usually start by laying my plants in the general layout I think I want.Taller plants in the back or center, depending on where the planter will sit.

Then I start by putting a  1" buffer of soil between the plant and the outside of the pot. (Remember that pots can get hot sitting in the sun.) I put all the outside plants in first, remembering the buffer zones along the outside. 

Then I fill in the center plants.  

I fill the soil up to the plant line as I go….

 This means that for a large premium 4” plant that I dig a small hole for it. 

I try to leave at least 1” between the top of the soil, and the rim of the planter to hold water

Gently pack the soil in around the plants to give them firm support.

Now, add a few more of the fertilizer beads to the top. 
I tuck the pull tags of the plants I used, behind one of the plants at the edge.   This way I can remember what's in there, and make notes about performance, etc in my gardening journal. 

Sweep up the loose soil and plant parts BEFORE you water in your planterGive the planter a good drink of water.  Check soil level, and if necessary, add more.  Water again.

This planter has:
          One midnight wave (I think it’s a scaeveola), One red geranium, one pink bacopa, a lime licorice vine, two white alyssum starts, two midnight blue lobelia starts, two red petunia starts, and 3 impatiens starts.  And a 3" tomato start!  The first four were all 4” plants and the starts were from tray packs. Cost of plants was less than $10.00 

         5.  I start my planters about 3 weeks before I would put plants out into the actual soil.   Usually between Easter and Mother’s Day.   The planters with their fresh soil mix are warmer than the soil in the ground, and they have better drainage.  Just remember that if you have frost -fragile plants, that you tuck the pots under cover if it’s going to get cold.

Oops!  Frost damage to this little sweet potato vine.

It’s hard to protect from spring hailstorms though…. This begonia got caught out one afternoon last week.

            6.  Water on a regular basis.  Try to keep the soil damp….  Not soggy, not dried out.     If by chance a planter or hanging basket dries out, soak it in a tub of water if possible…. So that those little water crystals can re-hydrate.  I usually soak mine for about 2 hours or so if needed.

         7.  Fertilize ! Fertilze !  Fertilize !   I know.... we used those fertilizer beads, but I always do a liquid water-soluble fertilizer (Miracle Grow, Schultz, Peters, etc.) about once a week when watering.   This is where I can be planter specific.  Do I want a bloom booster? {use one with a High middle number… i.e.. 15-30-15}.  Do I want overall growth?  {use one that is more evenly proportioned i.e.… 20-20-20.}  They make those great hose end feeders, but I like to do it the old-fashioned way, and mix the powder into a watering can.  This way, I get up close to the plants.
      By the way… those fertilizer numbers….    Think….  “UP, DOWN, ALL AROUND” and that will make it easier.
First number is nitrogen  - for top growth… green growth….  
Second number is phosphorous  - for  roots and blooms…
Third number is potassium – for overall strength and vitality.   If plants have been stressed, or have week stems, try to increase this number.  Or go with an even proportion until the stress is over, and then return to the bloom booster.  

8.  Deadhead and Pinch.  This is vital to a great looking pot. (or garden in general).   I usually do this with my bare hands, but some like to use scissors.   As blooms fade, pinch off the dead or wilted flower.   If the lobelia gets a little brown, pinch it back or pull that part off.   To keep the trailers going, pinch back about 1/4 to 1/3 of the foliage and blooms each week. (as your are fertilizing is a good time.)  This way, you never have to really give the entire planter a full haircut, but it keeps generating new growth that looks good.  Pinching back, especially early in the season, forces the plant to fill out more.  I know, it’s hard to pick off that first petunia bloom, but believe me; it will give you a much better show later if you do. 
{Did you know?   The only job of an annual flower is to produce seeds for the next generation?  In order to produce the seed, it has to flower first!  So… if you pinch off the fading flower, BEFORE it goes to seed, then the plant needs to produce another flower! }   Yes, you can trick a petunia to flower over and over, all season.   But, if you let it go to seed, then it will retire and go to the seed ripening stage, and stop flowering for you.

This was taken last August….

 So was this one… same planter, but you can see the tomato growing out the bottom! 

I hope I haven’t bored you today with planting tutorials… just wanted to share my methods and ideas.  
Tutorial  for Exchange Planters….

This is an idea I’ve been thinking about for several years.   Back in the semi-dark ages when I managed a garden center, one of my regular customers did these for people as a side job.   It sounded like a great idea at the time, but I’ve never put it to practice for myself.   This is the year!

We have a solid surface deck, that does not drain water easily.  The mixture of patio / deck pots I had last year, were always overflowing, even with saucers, and making a mess.   Our deck is huge… and those small pots seemed lost and to just kind of sit there, like an afterthought.

The plan works like this:

You pick out pots that fit your d├ęcor.  Then, using a liner pot, you plant your summer color in the liner.   You are also going to plant a liner up for  fall,  one for winter interest,  and one for early spring.   When it’s time to switch from one season to the other, you pull the early spring bulbs liner out, and replace it with the summer color one.     You can plant up your fall one, with mums, asters, autumn joy sedums, etc.   The winter one could have small evergreens with trailing ivy.   The spring one could be planted with bulbs, and have room to tuck in some primroses or pansies when they become available in Feb.  The possibilities are endless. 

Remember the customer I was telling you about earlier?  He would plant an extra up for his clients, so that in case something happened to a single plant or to the pot, there was a replacement ready to go in it’s place.  This would be an especially great idea if you were planning a garden wedding or special event.  A little back-up plan.

How to:

Now, before you run out and buy just any pot for this project, you will want to do some homework first.   You need to find some inserts.  These could be inexpensive, large black plastic nursery pots (mine were free)…. Or they could be purchased plastic ones that are a little more decorative.    I would try for pots that are at least 5 gallon in size or so, to make it worth the trouble of planting.   You need these in multiples of  3 or 4 for each decorative planter you want.  This is determined by how many seasons you want to plant for.  Having them all consistent is size is best…because in the end, you’ll do a lot less fussing.

I got 12 of these #10 pots from a nursery in my area.

(Thanks Vicky!).

They were used, but in good shape.  They are all the same.   I need to get 4 more when they have some more to give away.

They measure 12” tall, and 18” across

I actually took one of my liners with me the day I shopped.  I was looking for something that  the liner would go down into, and be approximately the same size at the top.   It’s ok, if the decorative pot is deeper, because you can always build a shelf inside with something to bring it to the right level.   You do want to avoid having the liner be much more than ½ inch taller than your decorative pot, though.

So, off  I went to find my new decorative pots!   I purchased some High Density Resin planters that look like whiskey barrels.  They are lightweight, durable, and don’t have drainage holes.  (Although you could drill them if you want to).   I didn’t want to spend another $25.00 just for a saucer to go under my large planter.   I found mine at Lowes,  but there are lots of these lightweight planters available, in either the resin,  fiberglass,  or even cork.   If you haven’t been out pot shopping in awhile, you’re in for a treat!    I was looking for a rustic type of look, so the whiskey barrel was my choice.  (I’m thinking that I’ll go buy another one to use to fill with ice for summer beverages on the deck.)

My planters are 22” across at the top, and 12” high.
This is the label inside of the whiskey barrels.

In the picture above you can see how much room there is for my fingers.

From overhead, you can see that gap all the way around.

          You also don’t want it to be more than a couple of inches wider at the mouth than your liner.   A nice snug fit is best, but leave yourself enough room to pull it back out once it’s full of soil.

When set down inside of my decorative pot, my liner was ½” taller,  and there was about 1” all the way around at the top.  I could put my hand down inside.   The shape of the whiskey barrel is flared at the top, and my #10s are straight up and down.   I’ll show you my solution to that in a while.

I fill my pots pretty full.  I want a lot of color impact going on.  These will fill out in month or so, and by July it will be in full glory.

Now, about that gap….. Since I had an inch all the way around, I wanted to fill it in.   I thought about moss, but since I will have to pull my planters out to drain water, I didn’t want the moss mess.   (If you are using decorative pots with drainage, then decorative moss would be  a nice touch.)

I filled the gap in with some of that flexible foam pipe insulation that comes in 4 foot lengths at the home improvement store.  Mine was for ½” pipe, but they make other sizes. 

Slip one end of the pipe wrap into the gap between the two pots. (Put the split side down)

Work your way around the planter, tucking   the pipe wrap in.

When you get all the way around, trim it with a razor blade

This is the view of the side elevation. My liner is slightly taller than the outside pot, but the round pipe wrap fills the gap nicely

A top view….

Another side view….

I fill my pots pretty full.  When doing planters,
I don’t read the spacing instructions.
This planter has:
          One upright fuchsia, one midnight wave (I think it’s a scaeveola), a yellow leaved sweet potato vine, two white alyssum starts, two midnight blue lobelia starts, one petunia start, and a marigold start.  The first three were all 4” plants and the starts were from tray packs.

In no time at all, these will all cascade over the edge, and I’m hoping that the foam filler won’t even be an issue. 

Now,  I just need to start planning what will be in the fall and winter planters, and get them started.   I have lots of room for these to sit down by the shop.  But if you are limited in space, you may want to just plant one season for now, and the next season approaching.

Remember…. Wherever you put your “next season planters”… make sure to water them! 

A Week's Progress....

My sister gave me this adorable planter!  I can hardly wait
 for the plants tostart cascading down the pots.  
   I'm in better spirits than my last post.   I was able to catch up on several little nagging projects this last week.

     The pile of black garbage bags is now in a trailer, ready to go to the dump.  (Honest, I'd compost, but there are noxious weeds in those bags!)   It took three trips in the golf cart with my little red trailer to get all those bags moved.  First, I  helped  put the new floor in the trailer, so we didn't walk through the soft spots.

     I got the little piles of stuff that were scattered all over from taxes, and our tendency to come in the door and drop.  We drop coats,  backpacks, tote bags, hats, mail, keys, and little pieces of paper that I haven't a clue what "John 888-111-2222" means.   Please, honey.... at least put down what you were going to call him about.... that way I'll be able to help you when you call me at work and ask..."have you seen a piece of paper with a phone number on it? [ the piece of paper could be a lottery form,  a tail end of a napkin, the back of the envelope I just recycled,  the back of the phone bill... etc. ]

     The fridge has been cleaned out... I'm almost caught up with laundry.... Although these two things seem to always need doing,  but last week they were weighing heavily on my mind.  Maybe the threat of opening up that underwear drawer and finding it totally empty was looming closer and closer.... LOL

     I was able to catch up on a large majority of my little sewing swap commitments last week.  They have all been mailed to their new homes.

    And I spent two full days this weekend out in the yard.   I got my deck planters planted.. and the garage planters done as well.     (I'm working on a tutorial to show you how I did this)

Believe me... there really were other flowers in here last sumer!   
   I used the creeping charlie that had taken over the planters from last summer, and divided it up... and planted the exposed bank around our carport with creeping charlie plants.  If it fills in as quickly there as it did in those pots... I'll be very happy!  

 The area it is in, is under some tall fir trees,  no grass grows in the area below it.  (the grass looks like the beard of a 16 year old.... pretty sparse).   So even if the ground cover really takes hold, it will not bother me at all.    The best part about the whole project is that I priced ground cover last summer when we poured that pad.   It looked like it was going to cost me over $100 for ground cover starts.   If I remember correctly,  I bought six 4" starts of that stuff last spring.  Divided each pot into 2-3 small sections and used it as a trailer in my planters...  so my total investment was under $25.  Not bad, if I say so myself.   

The north side of this area... planting in progress  

I use the length of my planter as a measuring tool

First the weeds!  This is the East side before
I started planting.