Summer got you down? Containers can help
Coleus in container
I have to be honest with you. The heat and drought is starting to get to me. Like many of you I have had the thought, “Why bother? Let’s just throw in the towel and hope for the best.” It seems like I water and water, but after what appears to be a good long drink it just doesn’t seem to make any difference. What’s even more depressing is the fact that it’s only August 1. My mind, body and soul are telling me that it should be September 1. I think this comes from the fact that we had such an early spring.
But all hope is not lost. I have found one oasis in my yard to revive my gardening spirit and that is none other than the containers on my patio and front porch. Now, I fully realize that in past articles I said that annuals should be the first to go when setting watering priorities in times of drought. But now, a few weeks after I wrote that, annuals appear to be just about the only spark of color in the landscape. The lawn is toast. The shrubs are wilted. And only a few perennials show hints of color. My containers, on the other hand, are thriving and paint such a smiling face compared to the burnt up landscape.
Yes, I totally realize that containers require seemingly daily watering and require me to stand in the broiling sun holding a hose. But on the other hand, I can see the happy plants being refreshed right before my eyes, as they drink up nature’s goodness.
Since containers require constant water they also will need a regular supply of fertilizer. A few weeks back mine were looking pale and showed overall less vigor. That is, until I added a little fertilizer. Almost overnight the sweet basil went from a pale yellow-green to a rich dark and lush green. The coleus put on new growth. And the begonias pushed out new blooms.
I think most gardeners forget about the need for regular fertilization of containers. My recommendation is to use a water soluble plant food, following label rates and times. This usually provides a weekly feeding to keep the plants growing.
But, in what is often the case, what I recommend and what I do are sometimes two different things. At the Patton household, I prefer to use simple garden fertilizer such as a 13-13-13 or a similar formula on a monthly basis. Determining the rates may be a little more complicated, but once you figure it out feedings can become routine. Here’s what I do: for larger containers (20 to 24 inches in diameter) I apply about 2 tablespoons each month. For smaller containers less than that diameter I apply 1 tablespoon or less. I don’t measure anymore but just use my fingers to take a couple of pinches, just like a great cook does in the kitchen.
Notice I recommended using 13-13-13 instead of my usual recommendation of high nitrogen lawn fertilizer for annuals? Why’s that? Container grown plants need the added phosphorus and potassium. Our native soils normally provide ample supplies of these two nutrients, so plants grown in ground only need nitrogen. But, just like plants in the ground, be sure to water after applying fertilizer to your containers so that it doesn’t burn the plants.
Once again, the key is to apply fertilizer regularly, from spring through fall. The last application should be made in early September, to push the annuals right up until frost. Of course, based on this year’s weird climate patterns frost could come tomorrow and I would be a happy camper!
Don’t forget to groom the plants from time to time. Grooming is the removal of dead or broken stems, cutting back straggly shoots or vines and removing faded flowers. The nice thing about containers is this work does not require much time and can be done in the cooler parts of morning, or even after sunset, with the aid of a porch light.
Okay, I think I am starting to feel a little less depressed. Maybe, like the little engine that could, I can make it through the rest of the brutal dog days of summer. I think I can drag the hose; I think I can set another sprinkler; I think I can pay the water bill. Whoops — maybe I went one thought to far! Hang in there my fellow gardeners and I hope you can find your own personal gardening oasis.