Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Choosing containers

Containers should complement the style of your home and the appearance of the plants you intend to add to them. As you select containers, keep in mind the mature size of the plants that will inhabit them.

Poured-concrete containers with the look of stone are popular and well suited to a formal setting. They're very heavy, so once planted, they should be considered a permanent part of the landscape.

Terra cotta comes in a huge selection of shapes and sizes. Over time these pots acquire a beautiful aged look . . . as clay pots age, algae appears on the outer surface, as well as mineral salts from fertilizer and water. Some people like the appearance of an old clay pot; others find it unsightly. The disadvantages of terra-cotta pots are that they allow the soil to dry quickly, which means plants will need more frequent watering, and in cold climates they may crack as soil expands and contracts.

Some of today's plastic containers resemble terra cotta. They're lighter in weight but will never attain the attractive aged, mossy look of the real thing. Plastic containers retain moisture better than clay, which is an advantage in hot or dry climates but a disadvantage if you tend to overwater plants. Plastic pots are less expensive and readily available in many designs. They're lighter than clay pots and may topple if plants are top-heavy.

Fiberglass containers are lightweight and long-lasting and may have the "aged look" built in. They can be made to look like terra-cotta pots, wooden containers or even bronze or copper containers, with a finish that resembles those metals' natural patina. They won't crack if left outside for the winter.

Wood is an excellent traditional choice and comes in a variety of styles, from redwood buckets to upright square boxes with feet. Wood dries out more quickly than other materials and may not last as long. Some plastic planters look a lot like wood and last practically forever.

The standard pot is as wide as it is tall, so one with a 6" diameter is generally about 6" tall. A standard-shaped pot is a good choice for most plants. Make sure that all containers have drainage holes.

Dark-colored pots absorb more heat than lighter ones; roots stay cooler in lighter pots. If you live in a cool climate and want to grow cacti, choose a dark pot; if you live in a warm climate and want to grow tender annuals, select a light-colored container.

Happy gardening :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Watering Tricks for Container Plants

Container gardening is my preferred method of gardening these days since my paradise has turned into a jungle that will take some time to get under control. In the meantime, I've been turning my carport into a container jungle just by taking pieces of plants and putting them in containers.

Keeping container plants healthy and watered can be a challenge, especially if you don't have much time on your hands.

One of the things I do to keep my plants healthy naturally is to dilute left over coffee and water my plants with it . . . I've sprinkled used coffee grounds in the containers. My plants love it! They also love water that vegetables have boiled in . . . I never use salt in the water. With the carport being right outside my kitchen, these practices have been very convenient for me.

A homemade self-watering device will care for your plants while you're on vacation. A thick piece of cotton cord placed in the drainage hole of a container will act as a wick and draw water from a reservoir such as a 1-gallon plastic milk jug. When you don't need the device, coil the cotton cord inside the saucer so it's out of sight.

Before you plant the container, cut a piece of cord 2 1/2' to 3 1/2' long. Place one end through the drainage hole of the container, then fill the pot with a few inches of soil. The cord should be visible on the surface of the soil before you set the plant in place. Coil the cord around the top of the soil. Set the plant in place, and fill the pot with the remaining soil. When you're about to leave town, place the long end of the cord emerging from the drainage hole into a gallon jug filled with water. The cord will act as a wick to draw water from the jug.

Another method--often used with miniature African violets--is to use a shorter piece of cord and set the plant on top of a reservoir. Both plant and reservoir can be placed in a larger decorative container so that the wick and reservoir are hidden. Check the reservoir at least once a month to see whether you need to add water. If you like, add fertilizer to the reservoir.

Strawberry jars are very difficult to water. To make the job easier, place a wire cylinder filled with gravel inside the pot. Fill the container with soil and plant as usual. When you water, place the hose directly into the cylinder. It will deliver water all the way to the bottom of the jar. Another method is to drill holes in a piece of PVC pipe and place it in the center of the pot before planting.

If you enjoy hovering over your plants, use clay pots, which dry out quickly. With terra-cotta pots, you won't have to worry about overwatering. If you prefer self-sufficient plants, choose plastic pots, which help the soil retain moisture longer so plants don't need watering as frequently. Gardeners who forget about their plants should consider self-watering pots with a reservoir of water that's available to the plants as needed.

Beginning gardeners often make the mistake of thinking that all plants require the same amount of moisture. In fact, some require a lot of moisture, whereas others prefer soil that's on the dry side. To keep each plant happy, you'll need to know its water requirements. A good plant encyclopedia or manual can help.

To determine whether a plant needs water, stick your finger in the soil. If it's dry down to the first knuckle on your index finger, add water. If the soil is damp, don't water. Or purchase a moisture meter at a garden center or nursery. After being placed in the soil, the meter's probe will indicate whether the plant should be watered.

There is an awesome product on the market that is a glass ball on a spikey stem that you fill with water and stick in the container to keep your plants watered. I'll try to find the link to where you can buy these or post a photo, they are very decorative and functional.

Every time I see the commercial on television, my minds starts going on some home made designed items using the same concept. Just haven't had the time to play around with it, but will post photos when I get around to making some.

You are welcome to post your watering tricks for container plants in the comments section.

Happy gardening :)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Information on Florida tomatoes

The following website has lots of
good information on Florida tomatoes . . .

Click here

It is the perfect time to start growing
your own tomatoes . . . I'm in the
process of updating my page on
growing tomatoes at my
personal website

Click here

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More states including Florida report tomato illnesses

Is anything safe to eat anymore? Seems like it is a game of russian roulette when it comes to buying produce. It is definitely time to start growing my own herbs and vegetables . . . as many as possible.

"The toll from salmonella-tainted tomatoes jumped to 228 illnesses Thursday as the government learned of five dozen previously unknown cases and said it is possible the food poisoning contributed to a cancer patient's death.

Six more states - Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Vermont - reported illnesses related to the outbreak, bringing the number of affected states to 23."

Click here to read the entire article.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Growing Basil

Little by little my interest in gardening is returning. My carport jungle continues to be the emphasis of my gardening. One of the things I have been missing is harvesting herbs and vegetables from my garden. As my interest in cooking has also been returning, my next project is growing basil in large containers in my carport.

One of the benefits of gardening in central Florida (zone 9) is no time is a bad time to start basil from seed . . . and a benefit of growing basil after not doing any serious gardening for several years is the instant gratification. It is one of the most foolproof herbs in this area.

Here is some information on growing basil from The Essential Herb Garden website.

Growing basil from seed

Sow the seeds in spring in seed trays and keep indoors or in a heated greenhouse until the seedlings reach the four-leaf stage. Keep well watered at all times whilst the seedlings are growing.

The seedlings can then be easily handled and transplanted out into pots or containers or directly into the garden in a well drained soil, where they can continue growing with the benefits of all the nutrients from the soil.

Plant the seedlings 50cm apart and keep shaded for the first few days and water regularly throughout to ensure healthy growth.

Conditions for growing basil

Although basil likes sun, it must be planted in a sunny, sheltered spot away from wind and draughts.

Don't plant basil until all risk of frost has disappeared. During midsummer basil likes semi-shaded growing conditions.

Growing basil in the garden

Growing basil between tomatoes and other vegetables in the greenhouse or garden will benefit both the basil and the other vegetables.

Basil will enhance the flavors of the other vegetables growing around it and will also deter insects.

Growing basil in your garden will attract bees and butterflies if planted outside.

Growing basil under glass in a cool summer is a good way to ensure a lush and healthy plant and supply of leaves. Remember though, if you are growing basil in your garden, you should not plant it next to rue.

Growing basil in the kitchen or greenhouse

Basil can quite easily be grown inside as long as it has a light and sunny spot on the windowsill or shelf in the greenhouse. If you keep the plants indoors you should be able to keep your basil growing well into the cooler months.

Harvesting Basil

Once the basil has grown to a height of about 15cm, you can start to take off the top sets of leaves. Pinch them out to the next set of leaves growing below. This will ensure a continual growth and should encourage a healthy, bushy basil plant.

Prune your basil every 2 or 3 weeks to ensure a healthy bushy plant.

Basil will continue growing throughout the summer and can ultimately reach up to 60cm in height. If the basil is left to flower, it will produce long spires of small, white tube shaped flowers.

To encourage a supply of leaves throughout the summer and autumn, pinch out the buds as soon as they appear.

Basil Foliage

Depending on the variety of basil you are growing, the juicy, oval leaves will grow up to10cm in length and will be a glossy rich green. Basil is highly aromatic with a strong scent reminiscent of cloves.

Basil plants will cross pollinate very easily so if you are collecting and planting your own seeds year after year, you should notice some slight variations which makes growing basil an interesting hobby and pastime.