Tuesday, June 22, 2021 10:45 AM
While the post-pandemic economy is waking up again, I’ve experienced some unexpected gaps in the garden supply chain. Last year, seed and seedling purveyors were caught off-guard by the demand fueled by an increase in new gardeners, and their displays and benches were emptied. This year their stock seems to be adequate, but when I tried to buy a good-quality border spade, several sources were out of stock until August. Same story for a mini-spade, so handy for those of us of smaller stature. And, most shocking, the shelves of my go-to store for inexpensive plant containers of all sizes, shapes and materials were bare, and they also were out of garden hoses.
Since I had plenty of plants and potting mix, but no containers, with summer feeling like it was speeding away from me, I decided to forage in the shed and barn for some kind of repurposed planters. There had to be an old tackle box or wash tub hiding in a cobwebby corner that would hold potting mix while allowing water to drain out the bottom. Sure enough, I never even made it to the barn, as I found four bottomless sap buckets in a dark corner of the shed. Someone must have cut the bottoms out at one time to use them for plant protectors, but more scrounging around produced some old rubber dog dishes that served as inserts to replace the buckets’ bottoms, and I was good to go.
Whether you’re using traditional ceramic or terra-cotta pots, or resort to baskets, old stock tanks, or even reusable grocery bags, container growing is an easy way to add color to your landscape without digging holes or fighting back weeds. At our house, the kitchen garden has become easy pickings for plant-munching wildlife — I’m talking about you, chipmunks and rabbits — so I decided to hide the basil, both amethyst and Genovese, flat and curly parsley and rosemary by mixing them in with flowers, everything from tiny violas and pansies to sturdy burgundy geraniums and amaranth. If I’d found bigger containers I could have mixed even larger kinds of vegetables in with the flowers, like rainbow Swiss chard or tiny currant tomatoes or strawberries that could cascade out of the pots.
Container gardening can get expensive, what with all of the pots, potting mix, fertilizer, and so on. Here are some ways to hold down expenses besides finding free pots. Incidentally, if you lack a shed or barn and your transfer station has a swap shop, it can be an excellent source of recycled planters. In past years I’ve found goodies like old watering cans, flour sifters and kettles that served me well. Whatever your container, filling it with the best potting mix you can find is a good idea. Next year, if you save your filled container and have had no disease issues during the growing season, you can save on potting mix by refreshing your pots, rather than totally emptying them. Just combine half of last year’s soil with half new mix. Don’t scrimp on your potting mix and try to reduce soil quantity by adding stones, foam, or other materials to the pot bottoms, as this can interfere with good drainage.
If you have many containers to fill, the most economical way to do so is to mix your own potting blend. One mix recommended is six gallons of peat moss or coir (coconut fiber), four-and-a-half gallons of perlite, six gallons of compost (from your home bins is good), one-and-a-half cups of granular organic fertilizer, and if you’re using peat instead of coir, one-quarter cup of crushed or powdered limestone.
Instead of filling your pots exclusively with new purchased annuals, look around in your perennial beds for plants that you can dig and divide to use in pots. The best are ones with foliage that add interest long beyond the few weeks they’re in flower. I dug and divided several hosta varieties to blend in with annuals, selecting ones with more colorful markings like dark green with lime edging and blue-green leaves with cream-colored centers. I also used some lady’s mantle, whose crinkly leaves continue to look crisp after the lemony blossoms have gone by. You can return the perennials to the ground in fall to overwinter. Another alternative to purchased fillers is moving selected houseplants outside, giving them a summer vacation. Just remember to harden off indoor plants, gradually give them increasing exposure to the sun and heat and avoiding full-sun locations.
Finally, as it’s June and you’re impatient to have containers spilling over with lush blossoms and foliage, your first impulse may be to go for instant gratification and overfill containers so the plants almost touch each other. Try to remain patient and hold back. Fewer plants will fill in nicely within a few weeks. Once they do, don’t forget that, unlike plants grown in the ground, container plants are unable to draw nutrients from the soil. Regularly feeding container plants will replace nutrients leached out by frequent watering and will keep the plants looking their best throughout the growing season. While fertilizer is critical, don’t overdo; too little fertilizer is always better than too much.
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