Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2010
Regional Report

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An old bathroom sink is the perfect place to grow a collection of carnivorous plants.

Something Silly

I love container gardening and actually have fabulous success with a variety of plants because I can control the environment, more so than with plants grown directly in the ground. No slugs or earwigs can sneak up on container grown plants, at least not right away. I have dozens of roses thriving in containers on the deck at Henry's house, beautiful pansies blooming their little brains out and believe it or not, sweet peas, which do extremely well in extra large containers, so long as they are never allowed to dry out between waterings. When you grow plants in containers you are in control of the soil, the moisture and the environment. It's a win/win situation all around.

Nobody says that containers have to boring. Terra cotta pots are the old standard, and are my personal container of choice. However, we have all seen the ceramic toilet planted with petunias sitting in an eccentric neighbors front yard. Recycled automobile tires are another favorite type of planter and are actually a good container for low- growing plants such as zucchini, cucumber and petunias. They act as a raised bed, allowing the roots to penetrate the native soil while providing a rich and warm environment for young plants until they become established.

Flora Grubb Nursery in San Francisco has many interesting "found objects" used as planters, including an old Edsel automobile, a bicycle (which is an ideal way to display a collection of hanging tillandsias) and something they have invented called a "wooly" that has pockets ideal for planting on a vertical surface. Flora Grubb has used the woolies to plant everything from succulents to ferns.

Buzz Bertolero did a segment on planting in an old boot on Henry's Garden, back when we were was still on the air. He said the main problem people have when planting in unconventional containers is a lack of drainage. It is very important that the water has a route of escape to prevent root damage. He tackled this important problem with an electric drill and wasn't shy about creating plenty of holes in the sole of the leather boot. If you plan to use a drill to create drainage holes in a ceramic container, it is important to put a bit of tape over the area intended for drilling. The tape will prevent the ceramic from cracking.

I have also planted directly into a bag of potting soil, with drainage holes punched in the bottom. The plastic bags won't last more than a season, but they are perfect for planting tomatoes or other vegetables on a deck, or even in the garden if you have an area with less than ideal soil. At the end of the season, reuse or compost the soil and toss out the plastic.

Use your imagination; anything that will hold water can be used as a planter so long as you can provide some kind of drainage. If you can't make holes in the bottom, place a layer of charcoal directly on the bottom, then a layer of large stones, next a layer of small gravel finally ending with potting soil. Containers without drainage must be monitored every time you water. If the soil feels damp to the touch, don't water. This would apply to fancy ceramic bowls or aquariums.

Baskets make wonderful planters and you can line them with plastic to prevent them from leaking. A saucer or a large platter placed under the basket will add extra insurance and protect your furniture. Large baskets are ideal for patio plantings. Once again, lining them with plastic will not only keep the soil from spilling out, but will also prevent it from drying too quickly. Wine boxes, empty television cabinets and leaky watering cans are all common items that can be recycled and used to add interest to your garden.

Plant something silly and see how long it takes for your neighbors to notice.

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