A GROWING CONCERN: Container enthusiasm for flowers and vegetables

I AM SURE that everyone has noticed and greatly appreciated the glorious, sunny and warm (almost hot) conditions of the last few days.

Thank you Mother Nature. Here come the May flowers.

Flowers and various vegetables do incredibly well here on the Peninsula, especially when grown in containers.

Be it pots, window boxes, large whiskey barrel halves or even inside an old discarded wheelbarrow, containers have some real advantages.

They also have some inherent problems.

Since I always grow numerous containers filled with both flowers and vegetables, let’s get the skinny on containerized growing.

The most important thing to consider when thinking about containers is the lack of soil volume.

Pots and containers have way more plants per square foot than you would normally ever consider planting.

They have that lovely vertical edge that we select plants to trail over, hanging down for a visual display or in the case of vegetables — more growing space.

Regardless of what you plant in your containers, there are just far too many plants in them for the area.

So the first thing you must start with is the best soil ever.

It needs to be rich in organic matter and have some sand in it to help hold the nutrients.

The soil should be made up of numerous particle sizes, so when your soil is moist you cannot press the soil into a ball that you can throw around.

Perfect container soil when firmly pressed together must shake apart when vibrated in your open hand.

If not, add more elements: sand, peat moss, compost, leaf mold, coffee grounds, eggshells, peanut shells, perlite, vermiculite and manure are perfect amendments.

I use them all.

The more particle sizes, the better your soil medium will be.

I dump out all my old container soil every year on to a tarp and work in all these ingredients anew.

There are so many plants in your pots, for lack of a better term, your soil is tired and worn out.

Soil will be the first determination of how well your plants will do.

Next then, of course, is the fertilizer.

All those plants in a small area are competing not only for the limited space to grow roots but for the limited amount of nutrients as well.

Here, organic fertilizers are the best because they release slower over an extended period of time.

This is important because your plants will do much better if nutrient is available at a consistent rate.

The more micro-nutrients the better.

The fertilizer I use has 15 to 19 different elements in it which is critical for all phases of plant development.

Next is your watering.

The number one reason plants do poorly in containers is that they dry out quickly.

In the case of vegetables the various dry and wet conditions makes them taste horrible.

Remember from the previous week we talked about water and its relationship to nutrient availability.

When you water, you feed your plants. So in containers, water every day.

You cannot over-water these if they drain well and soil is prepared correctly — by nature it drains well.

Also, containers get hot up there in the sun and air, so on many hot days I water a second time in late afternoon to cool down the soil.

Being a container, up in the wind and sun, it will still dry out come darkness.

Especially in vegetables— think tomatoes that you have had — hot soil makes them fibrous, less tasty and not very juicy.

Remember too, that as containers dry out the soil shrinks.

Make sure you have saturated the soil before you finish watering.

All that watering also leeches out the nutrients, so every 6 weeks I add more. This is so, so important.

A great trick I like to do is combine both flowers and vegetables in one container.

Plant pole beans or peas in the middle, and trailing lobelia or petunias around the edges.

This also brings in the pollinators.

Plant lush beans or cucumbers around the edges and a nice canna-lily or cosmos in the center.

What I really like about containers is the maximization of space.

A little pot can go a long ways.

And as we age, things can become a pain in the back — but not with containers, because little or no bending over is required.

This means you also save money on Bengay, hot water and ibuprofen.

So plant containers, they’re great and good for you.

Stay well all.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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