The ins and outs of container gardening

Container gardening is not new as the practice has been around for centuries and was widely used in the Roman Empire, at the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon and is evidenced even in  Mayan ruins. The Roman urn planters are still popular to mark front entrances, by pools and on patios but today we have dramatically expanded our choices in containers and plant material for these container gardens. For many years we mainly planted urns, hanging baskets or planter boxes but today we can use on almost endless array of container choices to make design or fashion statements, to accent or add contrast and excitement to our homes, businesses and property. Retail sales of prepared container gardens rose 8% from 2004 to 2005 to exceed 1.3 billion dollars. That is the most recent year for which data is available but I can assure you the trend is growing each year and this does not include all the plants folks buy to plant in new containers or to replant existing containers and pots. Many folks replant their existing planter boxes, containers and hanging baskets each year and add one or more new containers to their collection. Everyone can participate in container gardening whether you live in an apartment or have a large estate. Select containers with drain holes, add your own drain holes or on really large containers you can add a significant layer of gravel, broken pots or other open drainage in the bottom of the container. Then fill the container with a good quality, well drained soil mix. You can either use a prepared soilless mix or mix your own soil with about 1/3 loamy soil, 1/3 sphagnum peat or composted pine bark and 1/3 of a combination of vermiculite, perlite or calcined clay. You may want to add some polymer crystals to the media to help hold water and reduce your watering by about half. Select the plants you want based on the exposure to sun, shade and wind. Container gardens are usually most interesting when you combine some taller upright plants with cascading plants. They are easy to care for as long as you water them regularly. Remember that the smaller containers and hanging containers will dry out more often while larger containers will hold more water and go longer between watering. Just as your regular flowerbeds will benefit from a 1 ½” to 3” thick layer of top mulch of natural bark or hulls so will your container gardens. Mulching reduces weed problems, reduces watering and keeps the soil temperature more consistent to keep your plants healthy and happy in our hot summer weather. Mulching is one of our very best sustainable gardening practices in Oklahoma.

Container gardening allows you to move your plants to areas where you are entertaining or want to make a special show. They allow you to create special focal points, to change your design more often than permanent plantings and to add excitement to your landscape. Some folks refer to container gardens as a plant “hole” lifted up out of the ground to make a statement and are easier to access to plant and care for.

I was just at a big greenhouse conference in Arizona and everyone was talking about the new trend in “Staycations” where folks are staying at home instead of taking long or distant vacations because of concerns about fuel prices and the economy. Many folks are spending more time in their own yards to grow their own vegetables, berries, pretty flower beds and container gardens or to develop an outdoor kitchen or living area. This is a great opportunity to discover the joy of gardening or to expand your gardening efforts.

Whether you are a trend setter taking a staycation or just want to enjoy and commune with nature, spend a little extra time in your yard and plant the trees and container gardens you enjoy to create own special garden environment.

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