I love plants and flowers and am slowly learning how to plant in my garden, pots, and window boxes. A few of my neighbors are pros at gardening so my pathetic attempts at making beautiful pots or a lush garden did not go unnoticed by those expert horticulturists next door. Luckily they were always open to helping me and give me advice when I asked. I can now say, that although my thumb is not quite green, I can make a pretty darn good cutting garden. I love cutting gardens, I cut and bring flowers inside all spring, summer, and autumn.
I still have way more questions about gardening than solutions but I wanted to pass along some of the tips I have gotten that made my journey into gardening much easier. I hope they help you too!
- First, before you even march on over to the garden center ready to prove you can turn your thumb green overnight, make sure you know your growing zone! The right time to start planting varies depending on which hardiness zone you live — use this chart to figure out the right time to begin (and the specific plants that will actually flourish). Also, check with your gardening center as there are varying nuances to each individual zone.
2. Know whether the area your planting is shady, partly shady, sunny, or very sunny. People often wildly overestimate how much sun their containers get. While you can find a great plant for almost any amount of light, you have to know how much light your container will get before you choose your plants.
To figure out how much direct light your container will get, place it where you want it and then time how long the sun hits it. You can also use a sun calculator to determine your sunlight.
3. Planter fillers. If you do have large planters, flower boxes, or pots it may be a waste to fill the whole pot with soil when most flowers and veggies have roots that go down only 8-10 inches. Try a filler, they not only help to avoid wasting precious soil it will help keep your pots lighter for moving if need be.
There are lots of things that you can use for filler in a planter. Packing peanuts and recycled plastic bottles are a couple easy fillers to use. The key is to take up some space while still allowing drainage.
4. Find out what type of soil you have. This is very important if you are planting flowers or veggies out in a garden. If you are filling boxes or planters this is not quite as important if you are buying soil from a garden center. However, if you are using soil from around your home for the boxes and planters, you will want to know your soil type. There are three main types.
Clay. Clay soil feels lumpy and is sticky when wet and rock hard when dry. Clay soil is poor at draining and has few air spaces. The soil will warm up slowly in spring and it is heavy to cultivate. If the drainage for the soil is enhanced, then plants will develop and grow well as clay soil can be rich in nutrients.
Great for: Perennials and shrubs such as Helen’s Flower, Aster, Bergamot, Flowering quince. Early vegetable crops and soft berry crops can be difficult to grow in clay soil because of its cool, compact nature. Summer crop vegetables, however, can be high yielding vigorous plants. Fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs thrive on clay soils.
Sandy. Sandy soil feels gritty. It drains easily, dries out fast and is easy to cultivate. Sandy soil warms up fast in spring and tends to hold fewer nutrients as these are often washed away during wetter spells. Sandy soil requires organic amendments such as glacial rock dust, greensand, kelp meal, or other organic fertilizer blends. It also benefits from mulching to help retain moisture.
Great for: Shrubs and bulbs such as Tulips, Tree mallow, Sun roses, Hibiscus. Vegetable root crops like carrots, parsnips and potatoes favour sandy soils. Lettuce, strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens and tomatoes are grown commercially in sandy soils.
Peat soil. Peaty soil is a darker soil and feels damp and spongy due to its higher levels of peat. It is an acidic soil which slows down decomposition and leads to the soil having fewer nutrients. The soil heats up quickly during spring and can retain a lot of water which usually requires drainage. Drainage channels may need to be dug for soils with high peat content. Peat soil is great for growth when blended with rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity. You can also use soil amendments such as glacial rock dust to raise pH in acidic soils.
Great for: Shrubs such as Heather, Lantern Trees, Witch Hazel, Camellia, Rhododendron. Vegetable crops such as Brassicas, legumes, root crops and salad crops do well in well-drained peaty soils.
And the best- Loam soil. Loamy soil, a relatively even mix of sand, silt and clay, feels fine-textured and slightly damp. It has ideal characteristics for gardening, lawns and shrubs. Loamy soil has great structure, adequate drainage, is moisture retaining, full of nutrients, easily cultivated and it warms up quickly in spring, but doesn’t dry out quickly in summer. Loamy soils require replenishing with organic matter regularly, and tend to be acidic.
Great for: Climbers. bamboos, perennials, shrubs and tubers such as Wisteria, Dog’s-tooth violets, Black Bamboo, Rubus, Delphinium. Most vegetable crops and berry crops will do well since loamy soil can be the most productive of soil types. However, loamy soil requires careful management to prevent depletion and drying out. Rotating crops, planting green manure crops, using mulches and adding compost and organic nutrients is essential to retain soil vitality.
5. Make sure your planters and boxes have good drainage, it can be a matter of life and death for your plants. When there isn’t a big enough hole or holes for water to get out of your pot, your soil becomes too wet and the roots of your plants can rot which causes the plant to die.
The bad news is that many garden pots that are sold simply don’t have enough drainage. You can often increase drainage, by drilling, punching or carving bigger holes. However, sometimes it’s just easier to buy a pot that does have enough drainage. The minimum size for a drainage hole is 1/2 inch in diameter for small or medium-sized pots. For larger sized containers, look for at least an inch in diameter.
It is a total myth that by adding gravel, pot shards, or stones to the bottom of your container garden, you will increase drainage. Some people even say you don’t need drainage holes if you put these things in the bottom of your pots. Unless you are a really attentive container gardener, who can water perfectly, or you have a plant that likes wet soil (and there are some that do), you need holes in your pots — preferably lots of them.
6. Feed and fertilize your plants. Most potting soil has no accessible nutrients for your plants, you need to add those. The vast majority of plants will need fertilizer added to your soil, in order to thrive. You can mix in a slow release fertilizer into a potting mix. To do this, either mix up a big batch of potting soil mixed with fertilizer in a bucket or fill your pot with potting soil and then mix in the fertilizer.
Then fertilize every week or two with a liquid fertilizer, usually a fish emulsion, seaweed blend. It smells awful but really helps to give plants the nutrition they need.
7. My favorite tip is to not skimp on filling the boxes and planters. Many suggest planting plants far enough apart so they have room to grow. However, the more the merrier. Plants thrive together as long as you take care of them!
If you have a favorite tip for gardening email me and I will share it in future gardening posts!