I am guilty, guilty of thinking about spring planting while I look out the window at a blanket of sleek ice covering the lawn outside the office window. Can you blame me? Yes, it’s true that winter comes with its own fun like snowball fights, sledding, hot tea and indoor coziness, but it seems that I am always planning way ahead for the spring so I can hit the ground running once it thaws. A homeowner’s job is never finished, so at the moment, I am formulating a plan to switch up the plantings that will live in my outdoor planters. I have everything down to a science, but then I think of those who are just starting their container gardens or those who have been frustratingly unsuccessful in the past. Planting containers isn’t that complicated, but there are some rules and tricks to pay attention to. So, while we are stuck inside waiting for the temperatures to warm up, we might as well go over a few container mistakes to avoid to ensure happy plantings (and gardeners) this spring!
For the beginner, creating large container masterpieces from beautifully grown nursery plants is such a personal victory, until the realization sets in that the potting station isn’t where they intended the planter to live for the season. Have you ever tried to lift a large planter already filled with dirt and flowers? The words extremely heavy come to mind, and quite possibly impossible for one person to handle alone. When working with medium and large containers, be sure to select the end location wisely and perform all planting work at that site. Working smarter rather than harder, in this instance, will save your spine and avoid that “duh” moment!
It would be wonderful if every beautiful plant that caught your attention could be planted in the same way, in the same spot, but that isn’t always true. It is super important for you to know the requirements of each plant you plant to purchase, as different plants have different sun, soil and water needs! Also, be sure to pay attention to the height and spread of each plant you select. You want to make sure that you plan ahead for the mature growth of each container plant, if poorly planned, overcrowding and fighting for nutrients will occur and cause some of your investment to wither away. Lastly, be sure to size your plants and containers appropriately. Plugging short plants in a large container will ultimately look disproportionate, stunted and awkward. Trick of the trade, select at least one plant that is as tall as the container you are planting and, if available, incorporate some plants that will spill over the side. This will create unique dimensional interest.
If you are a beginning container gardener or just simply have the notion that nature will take care of your watering needs, I suggest that you quickly ditch that thought! Plants trying to thrive in containers need more attention that those in the ground. The ground will hold moisture longer for plants to draw from, but containers only contain so much soil and dry out so much quicker. Container gardens need watering at least once a day during the summer, especially hanging planters and smaller containers.
If you are not sure how much water your plants need, stick your index finger in the soil, up to your middle knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, it’s certainly time for a watering. However, the general rule of thumb when watering, give each container a good soak instead of a light drink. A quick water will only wet the top layers of soil, but the roots are where it counts. Give your containers a good soak, until you see water drain from the bottom. If you don’t see the water escaping from the bottom, make sure the container you selected has drainage holes on the bottom and that they are not clogged. Both overwatering and underwatering cn be easily avoided causes for plant failure.
Just like your indoor plants, you will need to pay attention to your container plants to monitor their health. Whether you’re growing vegetables like cherry tomatoes or pretty flowers like impatiens, if there is a problem, you are sure to know. Any plants that start to get tall, awkward and leggy usually need more sun, so move your containers to a place that receives more sunshine during the day. Dark spots forming on leaves usually has a bacteria or fungus to blame. Doing a quick daily inspection of your plants can find potential issues before they get too serious. If you notice an issue, Google it and I guarantee you will find the solution. Perhaps your soil needs some fertilizer, a quick wash to eliminate pests or a change of location, addressing an issue right away will give you a better chance at success.
Keep in mind that sometimes plants do die; even the greatest gardeners will have some fatalities along the way, it’s all a part of the game. Fact is, the more plants you try to grow, the more that will not make it. The trick is to not feel defeated and know when to stop trying to save them. It is better to dig up and dispose of the plants that are not rebounding, despite your best efforts, so they don’t jeopardize the rest of your beautiful container plantings. There are no rules that say you can’t replace the plants that bite the dust! Through trial and error, you will eventually find what works for your containers and find your rhythm.
And while there are no 100% foolproof plants or definitive garden procedures, we can say with certainty that that’s what makes all types of gardening exciting and rewarding. However, if you feel that your backyard is in need of more than a successful container garden to look exactly how you imagine it, reach out to MasterPLAN Outdoor Living! Specializing in custom-tailored 3D outdoor living design and installation, we would love to explore all possibilities for your property that provide beauty and function to fit your family and your lifestyle, ultimately creating an outdoor living space that won’t want to leave. Let’s experience this outdoor living transformation journey together; when you’re ready, we are ready!
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