Saturday, April 29, 2017

Container Gardens Are Flexible and Easy

Torenia and pentas love the sun.
Container gardens offer a lot of flexibility making it easy to grow herbs, flowers, even vegetables, in a small space. When I lived in a condo in D.C. I grew herbs and flowers on my 5th-floor window sill. Now that I live in a house with a yard, containers will add a lot of variety to my landscape this summer. They can also help use your space as it presents itself-clay soil, wet spots, harsh sun, dense shade, or maybe you rent and you can't dig up the yard.

Work With What You Have
I have what I call micro-climates in my yard and containers allow me to grow successfully in those spaces. Take the back steps as an example. It is about 10 feet wide and has extreme sun and total shade in the same small space. When I plan for those pots each spring, I have to remember they will not grow the same things well. Begonias and parsley grow beautifully in the shady section but would be burnt to a crisp just a few feet away in the sunny section. Pentas and torenia (wishbone plant) love the sun and flower all summer long in the sunny section, but would not flower so nicely in the shade all day.
Clockwise starting with red begonia, creeping jenny, coleus, parsley, mint all do well in shade.

Get Creative
In my quest to expand my knowledge and put it to work, I turn to Pinterest for container gardening #pinsperation. While many of the posts are professionally staged and sometimes include flowers that would never be in bloom at the same time, I like the variety of containers that are featured. I am now scouring my local thrift stores and neighbor's curbs on trash day for quirky containers for the summer. Like an old chair! Whodathunk?
Reclaim Your Space
Containers can also put your space to work. You can stick a container in a neglected corner or decorate some steps or along a fence. Containers also give you more control over the soil, too.

When you really think about it, a raised bed is just a large container. I was not up for breaking up the yard and amending the clay soil in my yard so I installed a 4 foot x 8 foot raised bed vegetable garden 5 years ago.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Caring for Bulbs After They Bloom

In my yard the flowering plants are kind of in limbo. 
  • The forsythia has flowered and the leaves are now coming in. 
  • The hydrangea has come back after popping back in February when we had a string of very warm days and dying a few weeks later when it snowed and was below freezing for multiple days in a row. I cut off the deadwood above the new green leaves and it looks good again.
  • All of the bulbs have passed now. My daffodils bloomed weeks ago thanks to those 70-degree days in February and now all that remains is the drab foliage. The tulips were beautiful this spring, but just a couple of blooms remain. It may be tempting to cut all the leaves and stems, but STOP! The leaves help the bulbs deep down in the dirt rejuvenate themselves. Right now, deadhead the flowers, not letting them so to seed. Don't touch the leaves just yet, though, let them die on their own. When the leaves let go with a gentle tug, then it's time to remove them. It's so tempting to cut them off, I know. They look ugly and seem to take forever to die, but just leave them be. You will be thankful next February and March when they start poking through the dirt again. If you will need to move or split the bulbs in the fall, mark the spots now - I use golf tees - so you can find them easily.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No More Decapitated Tulips

Warsawa (solid red) and World Expression tulips.
Tulips are my favorite flower. Their simple shape and uniformity are what attracts me I think. A few years ago I picked up a bag of 50 bulbs at Home Depot that was a mix of Warsawa (solid red) and World Expression (red and cream). They are starting to fill a new bed that was created under a large tree in the front yard when we put a low retaining wall around it.

Last year the tulips did not very well--I wonder if it was because of the all the rain we had. And the squirrels were decapitating them--grrrr. But things turned around this year and the bed looks beautiful. It just needs more tulips...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It all started with the peas

Last summer I decided to really expand my thinking about what was possible growing vegetables in my climate (USDA zone 7A). I grew up in Rhode Island and my father had a summer garden with tomatoes, beans and cucumbers so that was my frame of reference. I have lived here in Maryland, in a much warmer climate, for more than 20 years now, but breaking out of that "summer garden" mindset has been HARD. This breakthrough has involved a lot of growth for me. I felt like I did have a spring garden because I grew peas. That I didn't even eat! Walking with my friend one morning in January, I actually verbalized this AHA and I laughed at myself. I was growing them year after year because I was eager to get back to my raised bed and see something grow. So I got past the mental block the peas were causing me and started growing other spring vegetables that I actually DO want to eat. It sounds to simple but it took me a long time to get here.

And here I am! I have growing cherry belle radish, bloomsdale spinach, tendersweet and nantes carrots, stuttgarter onions (started March 1) and siberian kale that I direct sowed on March 25. I have parsley and tarragon that never dies year after year and some more kale that I got as seedlings from my same friend.
Cherry Belle Radish

Bloomsdale Spinach

Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts

Stuttgarter Onions
I have lettuce and arugula planned for the next week or so. And a few hold outs from last fall-one spinach plant, 2 long island improved brussells sprouts and a few carrots. I have a full garden in April. Yay me!

My advice? Just try it and see what happens. We have had very strange weather here with a very warm February, pretty cold March and April is feeling a little warm, too. My timing was based a little on the last frost date from the Old Farmers Almanac and a little by a planting spreadsheet I got from the You Grow Girl blog the Lazy Gardner years ago and a little on my own motivation. Not scientific my any means! That's not how I manage my gardens.