In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
April, 2006
Regional Report

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2069

For nutritious soil for container planting, combine 1 part humus, 1 part compost/leaf mold, and 2 parts high-quality soilless mix. Yum, shout the plants and microbes.

Thriving Despite the Odds

Gardeners often take pride in a bit of soil under the fingernails, the unusual plant, successful growth in difficult conditions. So I had to chuckle last week when I picked up my HP laser printer at the repair shop. The shop owner was chatty. He wondered where I kept the printer. "In my office," I replied, adding that it is in no way spotless. He persisted: "We found things growing inside the case." "Growing things?" I wondered aloud. "Green growing things -- like grass," he added. I smiled. "Well, I AM a gardener," I said proudly. "You didn't happen to save those green things, did you?"

That may be the only new garden I'll be starting this spring. With some 15 clients' gardens to tend, I'll not likely have time or energy to start new beds at the cottage. Looking around, I'm daunted by too many invasive plants and four-legged browsers. Early Easter Sunday afternoon, several herds of white-tailed deer meandered through the meadow next door and the adjacent field.

There's Always Room for Containers
So inside the white cottage fence, I've started potting up containers of veggies, tropicals, and whatever combinations catch the eye. Container gardening is an art and a science. The science comes first -- healthy soil that will sustain veggies and annuals through the hot summer (and hardy perennials, shrubs, and trees for many years). After all, the container is a minigarden with its own pros and cons.

In my Container Gardening Organically classes, the first lesson is making healthy, nutritious soil that will retain water yet drain well. One part humus or high-quality soil; one part compost/leaf mold; two parts high-quality soilless potting mix. ProMix Perennial Planting Mix -- a rich mix of sphagnum with composted bark and fertilizer beads -- is my favorite for containers indoors and out.

Because making my own potting mix is messy, I prepare a big batch early in the spring. What I don't use immediately, I store in covered buckets for later planting projects.

This weekend, a big wheelbarrow became an effective mixing bowl. I poured in a quarter bag of humus, an equal amount of compost/leaf mold, and twice as much soilless mix. This left room to fork and shovel the ingredients till they were well mixed. Then I added a couple shovels full of alfalfa meal and 2 to 3 cups of slow-release, granular, mineral fertilizer and mixed again. For roses and tomatoes, I toss in either bagged granular manure or aged (over 1-year-old) manure from a stable or barnyard.

As for containers, the bigger the better. Soil stays moister and roots have more growing room in large pots. Polyurethane, resin, and Styrofoam containers are durable and retain moisture. Terra cotta is attractive but porous so soil dries out quickly. That's fine for Mediterranean herbs such as thyme and rosemary, but stressful for most other plants. For the terra cotta look, I plant in a plastic pot then tuck that pot inside the clay pot.


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