In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
May, 2009
Regional Report

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A collection of containers adds growing space to a crowded garden space.

Contented Container Gardeners

The patches of Earth that I tend add up to less than 2 acres, but given the labor involved I sometimes wish it was all in containers! Especially in extreme seasons, whether wet or dry, potted plants of every category are the most reliable. They depend on you, not the whims of unpredictable weather.

Get Over Wet Soil
Every spring, gardeners in our regions start with high hopes for the new flower bed or vegetable patch. All goes well for awhile, but a week of rain can make a muck of the soil. That's not a problem with container gardens. At most you will need to fertilize a bit more during very rainy spells when pots are outdoors. Frequent -- and sometimes torrential -- rains may affect your fertilizer choice: slow release formulas that give up nutrients with each application of water may be used up sooner than their label would indicate.

Scarlet Begonias
The first plant ever given to me was a red wax-leaf begonia, and it must have been a tough cookie. Eight-year-olds are not great at routine chores, but it got watered enough to bloom all summer. When a piece broke off, Mama told me to put it in water. To my amazement, it rooted, and I've been taking cuttings ever since. What begins as a 4-inch pot with three stems can soon boast at least 10. To get this bounty, put a 4-inch dragon wing into a 12 inch pot and let it grow. Take cuttings each time there are four new leaves; you can skip the water and root them right in the pot as long as you are watering and fertilizing it regularly.

Standing Up and Hanging Down
While the begonia can grow in any kind of pot, other plants, like the striped airplane (or spider) plant will fare better in a hanging basket. The airplane's long flower stems can trail two feet or more, ending in baby plants that you can leave in place or pot up. Hanging baskets can benefit trailing plants like airplane and ivies, but also those that need excellent air circulation like crossandra and string of pearls (sedum). The tomato is a good example of plants we usually grow in the ground. The tomato plant, especially some varieties such as 'Celebrity' and 'Windowbox Roma', can be more bountiful in pots. Well-drained soil is essential to tomato growing and is not available everywhere in our regions. Sandy soils may require more water than a good container mix in a pot large enough for the tomato's root system. The recent popularity of upside-down tomato planting containers illustrates this potential problem. While it's true that the plants will grow very well in these pots, their soil volume is not large and the pots may have to be watered twice daily to prevent wilting.

Water Tips
Once you take the mystery out of watering container plants, their care is the simplest routine in the gardening world. Clay pots need watering more often than plastic pots of comparable size, because they are porous and water evaporates through their sides. This is an advantage if you have a tendency to overwater, and many people just like the look, feel, and weight of clay pots. No matter which you choose, water this way: soak the pots so water runs out the drain hole, then refill the "head space" between the soil and top of the pot. Do not let water stand in saucers after it has run through the pot!


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