How to start a container garden

Planning Your Container Garden

 The first thing you need to decide when planning a container garden is whether you’d prefer to grow your plants indoors or outdoors.  A lot of people think container gardening is only for indoor growing and patios, but containers can actually be useful for any garden situation.

Containers are great for growing almost any type of plant, because they offer great versatility.  If you plant your garden in containers and you need to move it later, it’s easy to do it.  Not so if you have a traditional garden!

If you’re expecting very bad weather, you can temporarily move containers to a safer location, like indoors or into a garage or basement.  But there isn’t much you can do for a traditional garden.

If you find your plants aren’t doing well because the space you chose is too sunny or too shady, there isn’t much you can do with a traditional garden, but you can easily move potted plants to a better location.

If you choose to have your container garden outdoors, you need to be sure to choose a good location for it.  You’ll want to choose a place that has the proper amount of sun for the plants you wish to grow, but it also needs to be a place that’s very accessible.  It’s easy to lose motivation to work on your garden if it’s several hundred yards away from the house!

Be sure to locate your plants as far away from streets as you can.  Pollution from cars, as well as the dust they kick up, can damage your plants and contaminate them.  You don’t want to be eating all of that pollution, so locate plants as far away from those roads as possible.

If you have your plants indoors, you’ll need to be sure to select a very good spot.  Most plants need to be fairly warm, so you’ll need to choose the warmest spot in your house if you use air conditioning.

Many plants won’t do well in very chilly homes, so you might need to choose a room for your plants and keep the vent closed in that room so it stays warmer there. If you can, choose a sunny room with a lot of natural sunlight.

Plants thrive best with natural light.  If you don’t have a room with a lot of sunlight, you’ll have to use special plant lights for your plants.  You can’t use just any fluorescent lights, because plants won’t thrive.

You need to use lights that are specially designed for growing plants.  They contain a broad spectrum of light, which is closer to natural light than standard bulbs. You may also have to adjust the humidity in the room with your plants.

Some plants thrive better in higher humidity, and others do well in lower humidity.  You may need to invest in special equipment to adjust the humidity if you’re raising very delicate or picky plants.  You probably won’t have to do this unless you’re growing exotic varieties.

Next, you’ll need to choose which plants you want to grow.  Be careful!  Too many people choose to plant far too many varieties, and end up frustrated.  Don’t grow anything you can easily pick up cheaply at the grocery store!

Stick to growing fruits and vegetables that you really enjoy and have a hard time locating locally, or those you find too expensive or too low quality.  Tomatoes are a favorite for home gardeners, because their quality in stores if often very poor.

Finally, decide whether or not you want to grow your plants organically.  If you’re growing indoors, this will probably be very simple to do.  But if you’re growing your plants outside, you may find the frustration of dealing with pests is just too much for you.  Don’t feel guilty if you find organic gardening too difficult.  You can always try it after you have more experience.

Getting your plants ready for winter

 Here in the Southwestern part of the U.S. the summer and fall seasons are long.  As we know fall in this part of the country produces some of the best eye pleasing color for all to enjoy.  Getting your plants ready for winter should be done every year.

The fall colors in the Southwest are awesome.

Texas Red Oaks, Chinese Pistache, and Raywood Ash trees produce eye popping red colors.  I also love the fall weather as it is cool and the wind is almost non-existent.

Colorful tree
Beautiful Chinese Pistache Color

I am often asked “what and how do I get my landscape ready for the winter season”.  Here are a few tips to help you do just that.

First you got to keep abreast of the weather in your area.  Now days it’s really easy with the advent of smart phones and t’s a snap to tune in for weather reports.  TV, Radio and of course the Internet will give you the latest information about freezing temperatures or inclement weather.

Getting your plants ready for winter

It is best to fertilize almost everything before the onset of winter.  This will keep your plants strong and hardy before the spring seasons.  Fertilizing in mid winter is not recommended.

Frost tender plants such as Lantana’s, and the Red Bird of Paradise should be trimmed down to the ground.  It’s best to cover these plants with mulch to keep the root thriving throughout the winter season.

The desert bird and yellow paradsie plant are best left alone during winter.

red-bird-paradise

What about Roses?

Roses for the most part should be left alone.  Only trim if you have a good reason to trim.   Here is a great post on how to take care of roses.  Rose Care.

Palm trees during winter.  Do not trim off the yellow palm tree fronds as this helps protect them from the freezing temperatures.  Kind of like leaving a coat on for winter.

Do trim off the fronds during the spring, and summer seasons.  Palm Tree care post is here.  More Palm Tree Care. 

california-fan-palm

You will need to cut down on your watering once mid-November comes around.  Do water about twice per month until spring.  Once you see small shoots coming out of from the bottom of trimmed of roots it’s time to go back to regular watering.  Basically every other day during spring summer and fall.

barbara-karst-bougainvillea

The Bougainvillea plant should be taken inside unless you planted them in the ground.  In that case it’s best to trim back and cover it with a thermal or insulation plant blanket.  Yes, these are sold at local nurseries.  If you live in climates that do not get below freezing they are best left alone outdoors.

You should cut down your watering for trees and plants that are well established.  This usually occurs about the third or fourth year.

Do Native Plants need water during winter?

Water Native plants less frequently I would suggest about once per month.  Do not water Ocotillos, Cactus, or Agave during winter at all.  The Pinon tree should only be watered about once per month.  Texas sage (lecuophyllums) should be watered about once per month during winter.  The true sages need about once per month also.

The argument about not watering native or drought tolerant plants at all is valid. But only for those who do not care about growth and looks.  These plants tend to look better, grow faster and produce more blossoms or flowers during their peak seasons.

Citrus plants should be brought inside unless you live in an area where there are no freezing temperatures but again, keep your eye on the weather.

What about Lawns?

Warm season lawn grasses such as Bermuda will go dormant once the cold weather hits your vicinity.  This means turn the water sprinkler off during winter and do not fertilize it.  You are wasting your time, money and effort if you do!  However, if you have Bermuda overseeded with rye grass then I would continue watering throughout the winter months.

Cool season grasses such as Fescue, and Kentucky blue grass should still be watered about once per week.  If you want your Fescue lawn to look good during winter…fertilize it.  A good 16-8-8 analysis will work great.

It’s important to note that if you live in a warmer climate where temperatures rarely go below freezing there are different set of rules.  Southern California and Arizona rarely have temperatures below 32 degrees farenheit.

So, it’s best to call your local nursery and ask for advice.  I would not call the big box stores as the majority of nursery employees are not as well informed in the gardening field.  Need to find your local gardening zone map?  Just follow this link.  Southwest Garden Zone Map.

Fall is a good time to observer your plants.  Look for diseases, insects and be sure to call or visit your local nursery folks and ask for advice.

Many folks consider spraying for insects in fall as a waste of time and money.  They may think “The winter freezes will kill them anyway”.  This is true!

However, It’s best to do this any way and here is my reasoning.  Most insects will produce larvae and eggs in fall.  These eggs will fall to the ground lay dormant througout the winter seasons. Once the warm weather comes back around they will hatch and you will have more insects to contend with.

Got questions and or comment about our “Getting your plants ready for winter” article?  Just type it below.  We answer all comments or questions!

How to start seeds indoors

Article by: by By Diane Linsley Check out Diane’s outstanding website at: Dianeseeds.com- Diane’s Flower Seeds Heirloom flowers, rare perennials, daylilies and

Starting Indoor Seeds

This is a lot easier than it sounds. Even inexperienced gardeners can start seeds with just a bare minimum of equipment.

There are as many ways to start seeds as there are gardeners, but the following tips have always worked for me.

Equipment Needed:

Plastic flats — I prefer the cheap ones with the separate cells. If you have a choice, buy flats with white trays rather than black. The black heats up in the sun, which is nice for germination, but when the flats are placed outside later in the spring, it can overheat the seedlings. Watering more frequently can help to counteract this problem. You can reuse the same trays and pony packs for 2-3 years before they fall apart.

Just wash them in the bathtub with soapy water before reusing them. Sterilized seed starting mix — This works much better than potting soil, even though it’s a little more expensive. Never use garden soil or previously used potting soil. I don’t recommend using peat pellets because they tend to stay soggy, which can cause damping-off disease. A spray bottle — To remoisten the surface of the mix, if necessary, while the seeds are germinating. Seaweed fertilizer — Optional, but very helpful.

A little goes a long way! I use half the strength recommended on the bottle to avoid burning the tender young roots. I like Maxicrop kelp extract, available from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. A rack to put the flats on — Rubbermaid makes a nice 4 tier storage shelf. It has enough spacing between the shelves for the flats to get adequate sunlight. Or you can attach grow lights, if necessary. A bright window, preferably south or east-facing — I set my rack in front of the sliding glass door in my east-facing kitchen. South-facing would be even better.

If you don’t have a south- or east-facing window, you could try west-facing, as long as you also supplement the plants with flourescent lighting. Hang the grow lights (or cheap flourescent lights) from chains 4″ above the tops of the seedlings as they grow. Leave them on for no more than 12-16 hours a day (plants need to rest at night just like we do). Now, it’s time to start those seeds. Don’t be scared off by all of the instructions — it’s really easier than it sounds.

How to start seeds indoors

Fill a flat with seed starting mix. Press it firmly into every cell, since the mix will shrink when the water is added and the air pockets are gone. Moisten the mix with warm water.

Don’t use cold water, because peat moss (the main ingredient) repels cold water. My flats usually require between 1 and 1.5 quarts of water. I pour it slowly over the flat, trying to put roughly the same amount into each cell without washing out the soil. Don’t use too much water — you don’t want to waterlog the soil.

When the mix is thoroughly moistened, lightly press it down to remove air pockets. Wait for a few minutes for the mix to become evenly moist before you start planting the seeds. If there is excess water in the bottom of the tray after 15 minutes, pour it off. Most seeds are planted about 2 times as deep as they are wide.

This means that tiny seeds like campanula are best sown on the surface or covered with just the thinnest amount of mix. Press the seeds lightly onto the surface to ensure good soil contact. A little spray of water with a mister will also help the seeds to settle in. Before sowing larger seeds, poke a shallow hole in the center of each cell.

Sow about 3 seeds per cell. For very tiny seeds, sow 5-8 seeds. Extra seedlings can be thinned later. But try to avoid the temptation to sow hundreds of tiny seeds into one cell. The seedlings won’t do well, and they become a thinning nightmare. It’s also a good idea to save some seeds for next year or for disasters (like your toddler pulling up the seedlings). Whenever I try a new type of seed,

I start some indoors and some outdoors to see what works best. For seeds with a high germination rate, just pull back the mulch, scratch up the dirt with a hand-held cultivator, scatter a few seeds over the dirt, then scratch them in and pat them down. Don’t replace the mulch, or they won’t germinate (mulch keeps weeds and flower seedlings down).

This method is less reliable for difficult seeds. When in doubt, it’s best to prepare a special seed bed in a place where the soil is good (like the vegetable garden), and turn in some weed-free compost or well-composted manure before planting the seeds.

Most perennials, except those with taproots, can be moved later to permanent spots in the flower garden. Leave annuals where they are sown — collect the seeds of hardy annuals in the fall and scatter them in flower beds. Back indoors: You must keep accurate records of what you planted. Believe me, you won’t remember in what order you planted the seeds by the time you finish planting them.

I sow one type of seed in each pony pack, writing down what I planted as I go. You may also want to mark the side of the flat where you started with masking tape, and write in your notes something like, “Starting from top left side, going down”…(followed by your list of seeds and how many pony packs of each that you sowed). Place the clear plastic lid over the flat. This retains the humidity for surface-sown seeds.

Remove the lid if the flat gets too warm sitting in the sunshine. As soon as several seedlings appear, remove the lid permanently, and do not use it again or you risk getting damping off disease, a fungus that kills young seedlings if they are kept too wet or don’t get enough air circulation.

I’ve never had this problem because I’m very careful to avoid overwatering (and there’s a heat vent in the floor nearby, which probably helps). Some people run a fan to ensure good air circulation. If you start seeds that require pre-chilling, such as columbine or penstemon, you should place the flat in your refrigerator for 3-4 weeks after sowing. When the time is up, place the flat in a sunny window, and the seedlings should begin to appear within 2-3 weeks.

I often start my columbine in part of a flat, then add the rest of the cells and seeds after the columbine is finished pre-chilling. Seedlings must be observed every day from now until transplanting time. When about half of the cells are looking dry, and the flat feels lighter than normal, then it’s time to give it a good watering.

Pour about 1 quart of water in the bottom of the tray. Watering from the bottom up is better for seedlings. Just be sure to drain off any excess water after giving it time to soak in. Unfortunately, some cells tend to dry out before the others (especially the cells in the corners), and they need to be watered more often. Do this carefully to avoid damaging tiny seedlings.

Before the seedlings germinate, I use a spray bottle to moisten the soil surface if it dries out too much. Once the seedlings have emerged, bottom watering is best to reduce the risk of damping-off disease.

After the seedlings have developed their second set of leaves (the “true” leaves), it’s time to use some seaweed fertilizer. Add the seaweed at half the strength recommended on the bottle. Fertilize about once a week, adding the fertilizer to the quart of water that you put in the bottom of the tray. When the seedlings are sturdy enough, use a small pair of manicure scissors to thin out the smallest or most gangly ones.

Don’t attempt to pull up the seedlings, which could damage the roots of their neighbors. There are some things that don’t require thinning, such as sweet alyssum. Avoid thinning weak seedlings like snapdragons until they are well established, since the fragile stems frequently break, leading to a sort of self-thinning. About 3-4 weeks before the last frost date, start introducing the seedlings to the great outdoors. Just set the rack outside on the east side of your house or in the dappled shade of a tree. Only do this for half an hour or less on the first day.

Watch the seedlings closely for signs of wilting, and don’t put them out on cold or windy days. Slowly increase the amount of time that they spend outside each day until they are staying outside all day and only coming in at night. During the hardening-off phase, plants will need to be watered as often as twice a day to keep them from drying out.

It would be wise to transplant the seedlings on different days, just in case of disaster. And, of course, water them frequently until they are well established. Adding seaweed to the water for the first one or two waterings will encourage stronger root development.

Don’t give in to the temptation to transplant them into the garden before the last frost date, no matter how nice the weather seems. One year, I planted out 100 seedlings a few days before the last frost date (May 15 here in northern Utah), and two days later the temperature suddenly dropped to freezing.

I placed pots over as many seedlings as I could, but I still lost about half of them. Don’t be shocked and dismayed if up to 10% or more of your seedlings die before they grow up. This happens to even the most experienced gardeners. Just enjoy the plants that make it. Once you have successfully started your first plants from seed, you’ll be hooked for life!

Above article by:  Diane Linsley Check out Diane’s outstanding website at: Dianeseeds.com- Diane’s Flower Seeds Heirloom flowers, rare perennials, daylilies and herbs.

Is fall a good to plant trees, shrubs and other plants

fall plant colors photo

Photo by danperry.com

Is fall a good to plant trees, shrubs and other plants?

Of course it is.  The recent rains in and around the southwest have made this an even more optimistic time to plant.

The cooler nights, the windless days, the warm moist soil, the mild day time temperatures, make this one of the best times of the year to get out in the yard and start digging in.

These conditions are not only perfect for both us humans who have to plant this greenery, but also for the plants which will suffer little or no heat and water stress. The below ground temperatures are still warm and the above ground temps are cooling down. This scenario provides ideal conditions for planting as well as a jump start into next spring!

herb-gardening-image (1)

You can plant just about anything that is offered this time of year, although admittedly the varieties available may be a bit less than the spring selection. In either case you can plant fruit trees, shade trees, evergreens, bulbs, perennials, winter annuals and even vegetables.

Fruit such as fig, grapevines, pomegranate, apple, pear, peach, plum, and cherry do well in the southern part of New Mexico. Nut trees including but not limited to pecan and almond fall into this category. Shade trees such as ash, red oak, live oak, locust, cotton less cottonwood, purple leaf plum, Golden Raintree, flowering pear are excellent choices for this climate.

magnolia-tree
Magnolia Tree

Evergreens ranging from broad leaf to coniferous and Magnolia’s offer an endless palate of colors and textures that will add depth to just about any landscape. Bulbs for fall are daffodils, ranunculus, Dutch iris, hyacinths, crocus, and tulips, to name a few of the basics. Perennials for this area are in abundance and come in a plethora of ultimate sizes, shapes, colors and uses that will fit in any garden.

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Winter annuals that give color from now up until next spring are pansies, viola, snap dragon (if already in bloom), stock, and ornamental kale and cabbage. Vegetables suited for fall are carrots, broccoli, lettuce, kale, turnip, radish, collards, bok choy, and more.

chinese-pistache
Chinese Pistache Tree – Mid Summer

If you are looking for the typical flush of autumn color in trees, this is the time to begin your quest. Trees such as red oak, Chinese pistache, Cotton less cottonwood, Raywood ash and crape myrtle offer a beautiful show of fall and winter interest.

sienna-sunrise-nandina
Sienna Sunrise Nandina

Shrubs such as nandina, euonymus emerald and gold, euonymus emerald gaiety, abeliakaleidoscope, and burning bush will flush to a reddish to purple hue, depending upon soil type and location.

Fall is a great time to plant trees and plants

All these plants tend to show more pronounced color when grown in full sun, as compared to shade or even partial shade. Plants and trees have deep green foliage during the growing season; will almost always provide a vivid show of color when the plant stops chlorophyll production.

With this in mind it is best to make sure you plants are adequately fed during the warmer months with fertilizer and an iron supplement to boot.

Keep in mind water use in fall. Most of us over water during some of the cooler months, so please remember to adjust your sprinkler systems to mirror the amount of water foliage actually needs.

This action can also help plants transition into the winter months more efficiently. This may help produce more fall color as well, as long as you don’t completely stop watering.

In most cases you should stop feeding in October, although you may still use an iron supplement or soil acidifier whenever you notice yellowing leaves that are not caused by the chilly weather.

Now that the ground is easier to work with, the days are cooler, and the nights are getting crisp, there is really no reason for you not to dig in!

Got questions and or comments about this post Let us know by commenting below.

Is fall a good to plant trees, shrubs and other plants

Gary Guzman – Author of this gardening post.

Gary-Guzman

Yuccas Agave and Bear Grass for Southwest Landscaping

agaves

Yuccas, Agave, and Bear Grass: Southwest Landscaping

Here are a few drought tolerant plants that can be used just about anywhere the sun shines. They can be used as mass plantings, single specimen, and some in containers.

First we start with the yuccas. Yucca faxonia and torreyi can grow quite large over time. These are best suited in areas with space over the long haul.

They are slow growing; however additional summer watering will help speed up the process. Yucca faxoniana is hardy to about 10 degrees f. while torreyi is hardy to about 10 degrees f. Yucca aloifolia has very stiff leaves and is a bit faster growing than the above mentioned. This one does well in containers with fast draining soil. A little shade will help darken the color of the leaves if it gets too much sun.

golden-sword-yucca
Photo Credit Monrovia – Doreen Wynja golden-sword-yucca

The ‘Golden Sword’ Yucca

( Yucca filamentosa) Is a slower growing plant that is an excellent choice for containers, but of course just as beautiful in the ground.

This one will brighten up just about any area with its striped variegated leaves. Of course I can’t forget to remind everyone of the ‘Yucca Elata’, also known as ‘soap tree ‘, which is our state flower. Very slow growing thin leaves with cream colored flowers during the spring months.

When one mentions “Agave” you may think, “Oh, that big old large century plant that takes up all the space in the world”. The agave mentioned here will generally will not exceed 3 to 6 ft tall and wide, and some even smaller.

octopus-agave
Photo Credit – Monrovia – Richard Shiell Octopus Agave

 

First there is the ‘New Mexico’ agave this one is very hardy and grows to mature size is about 2 feet tall and wide. The “Octopus Agave” has free flowing succulent arms as the name suggest. This one is about the largest variety mentioned in this article, growing up to 5-6 foot tall and about 3-4 foot wide.

This agave does not produce “pups”, but it does have baby plantlets, that adhere to the flower stalk. When the flower stalk drops, and the plant dies the plantlets take root on the ground below.

artichoke-agave
Artichoke agave – Photo Credit Richard Shiell – Monrovia

The ‘artichoke agave’

As the name implies resembles the artichoke. It grows 2-3 foot tall and wide with grayish colored leaves.

The thread leaf agave grows 2 foot tall to about 3 foot wide. This agave is hardy to 10 degrees f. The ‘blue glow’ agave has a very deep rich color and is very well suited for containers. The ‘Utah’ agave is a very hardy to -10 degrees f. This one grows only to about 18 inches tall. The ‘Queen Victoria’ is the smallest of this bunch. It only grows to about 12 inches tall to 18 inches wide. These last three are excellent for care free container gardening.

Bear Grass or ‘nolina macrocarpa’

This grass grows to 3-4 foot tall and wide. It is an easy to grow shrub that thrives in light shade or full sun and needs very little summer watering once established. It is hardy to zero degrees f. It may need to be thinned out every 2 to 4 years to keep the center from “hollowing out’.

beargrass2
Bear Grass in Container

The hardy desert spoon or sotol which may resemble somewhere between bear grass and a  yucca with “teeth” is also very drought tolerant.

desert-spoon
Desert Spoon or Sotol in container

The sotol has a round spiny basketball shape that grows up 3-5 tall and wide with a tall flower spike which can grow up to 10 foot high or more. Older specimens can develop a “trunk” when the lower leaves are removed.

As stated above all these plants are quite drought tolerant once planted in the ground and established. When grown in containers the soil should be allowed to completely dry out and then thoroughly drenched for best results.

Be sure to use a fast draining media when planting in pots. Always use pots that have drainage holes for these desert gems. Keep in mind that the temperature, sun exposure, humidity, soil, pot type, and pot color will all have an effect on how well your plant will perform. In most cases these plants need no extra feeding.

If you find that your plants lack vigor or vibrant color you may want to use an organic or slow release fertilizer. You may have to treat some of these plants with a systemic insecticide to help prevent or treat agave weevil.

Yuccas Agave and Bear Grass for Southwest Landscaping

This will show up as excessively yellowing and or wilting leaves (may appear to be over watering). Other than the weevil being a pain in the “grass” these heat loving dwellers can make a beautiful statement in any landscape.

Gary-Guzman
Gary Guzman – Owner Color Your World Nursery in Las Cruces, NM.