Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
December, 2011
Regional Report

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These hay rack type planters lined with coconut coir add a blast of color to a wall and porch railing.

Gardening the "Back Forty"

I've noticed that garages and closets never seem to have enough space for all the stuff I want to put in them. The same is true for my gardens. Some people have a decent amount of space to plant flowers, vegetables, and herbs on their property, but many who would like to garden don't. If you live in an apartment, condo, or town home, you are looking at little to no space to turn over a spadeful of soil. With land being a rare commodity in urban areas, even many new houses are built with very little space to grow a garden.

If you are one of the gardeners or wanna-be gardeners for whom the term "back forty" refers to about 40 square feet, take heart. There is a lot you can do in a very small space! It just takes a little creative planning and prioritizing what you most want to grow. Here are some strategies that I've found to be helpful.

I will assume that any soil space that is available will be put to good use, but a patch of ground devoted to a garden need not be the limit of your horticultural activities. Look for places to include flowers and vegetables in the shrub beds that are "standard issue" for skirting new residential housing. You can fit a lot of color and culinary production in such areas. Trailing herbs, for example, make great groundcovers or greenery between the stones of a walkway.

Containers are a must-have, especially for small space gardening. Large decorative containers will support a specimen plant or a grouping of plants. Purchase a quality growing mix for containers to really boost plant growth. I like the fact that with containers there is little to no need for weeding.

Hanging planters can add a swath of color or vegetables to an otherwise unused area. Choose from planters designed to attach to a wall, planting boxes that sit on top of a porch railing by straddling the sides, or others that hang alongside a porch or balcony railing Hanging baskets are a familiar option. They can be attached to the outer edge of a porch, a bracket mounted on the wall, a tree branch or a stand made for holding them. There are many nifty new containers and other gardening gadgets for container growing. Shop around and see what catches your eye.

Keep the growing mix in your planting containers moist as they will dry out faster than plants in the ground. Fertilize the plants regularly in small doses to maintain vigor and productivity. A soluble fertilizer at a low rate or a slow release product in the soil will help maintain an available supply of nutrients.

Transition your plantings by always having something ready to replace vegetables or flowers that are finishing their production or peak bloom period. This means starting seeds or purchasing transplants and potting them up into the next larger size container to keep them growing until they can take center stage.

Go vertical. By using a trellis you can grow any type of vining vegetable or flowering vine in a fraction of the footprint it would otherwise require. Stand-alone trellises are fine but don't forget that any fence can be used with a trellis to provide a wall of green foliage, vegetables, and flowers. A trellis can be set close to an outside wall of your home or anywhere that there is adequate sunlight.

Don't forget that vertical means up AND down. Some vines are well suited to hanging over a balcony, just avoid extra vigorous ones or your downstairs neighbors may not appreciate your very green thumb!

If you are growing melons or other large fruited vegetables, make sure to provide a support for the growing fruit, or you'll need to purchase hard hats for your downstairs neighbors! You can use a section of hosiery to make a sack or sling to hold fruit. Place it over the fruits when they have reached about baseball size and then tie the sling to the trellis, lifting the fruit a little to allow for some growth and sagging of the support material.

Don't let a lack of space nip your gardening dreams in the bud. Try some of these ideas and turn your "back forty" into a colorful and productive garden spot.

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