Tag Archive | Containers

Fall Container Gardening

by former OCMGA Master Gardener Jess Wickland

Fall-Containers_100450460_webI remember climbing the steps of my grandma’s house when I was little, examining the containers on her front porch. In summer, she had the typical spike, red geraniums and vinca vine. Once fall rolled around, the declining summer annuals were replaced with splashes of maroon or yellow mums, or sometimes some purple asters. I love my grandma dearly, but sometimes you have to break away from the mold and explore other options. (sidenote: this year she planted begonias — livin’ on the wild side!)

I have seen a lot of creative container ideas each year, some better than the last. One particular display I was very impressed with used pumpkins and squash in the larger containers, planted between flowers, and they were set on hay bales to give it that autumn feel. Some people like to use corn stalks to decorate their front doors; why not use that as a back drop and carefully place some containers around them? It’ll still let you have the vertical appeal of the corn stalks, but adds a little extra color. Some people even prefer to use different colored pots for fall decorations. There are greens, blues or blacks for summer arrangements, but as the autumn colors peak on the trees, the maroon, copper or even terra cotta pots come out to hold the vibrant fall arrangements.

What plants can be used in these arrangements in the fall? Some may prefer to use the stand-by: mums or asters. Mums now come in a rainbow of colors, and asters are a few shades of pink, purple or lavender. However, if you want to have plants that are bolder and don’t resemble my grandma’s fall containers, there is quite a selection to choose from at garden centers these days. My favorite plant for fall containers is the temperennial rudbeckias. Their blooms are much larger and showier than the perennial ‘Goldsturm’ we are accustomed to seeing, and are now being hybridized to be available in maroon, with green centers, or with bicolored petals. Ornamental peppers are making their way to the top of many homeowners’ lists, too. Most have small fruit that start out green and change to red or yellow as the nights get cooler. However, a newer variety has purple peppers on it if you prefer the darker colors or want to create a container with asters or kale. Speaking of kale, it’s a wonderful addition to the fall landscape. Many times, if we have a milder fall, kale can be seen “blooming” until Christmas. The colors become more pronounced as the temperatures get colder. There are a lot of different types of kale — some are more upright, while others are shorter and resemble small cabbage heads instead.

If corn stalks aren’t your cup of tea, but you still want a vertical accent for your fall arrangements, consider using ornamental grasses. CabagecontainerThere are quite a few varieties that will do well in this climate and can be planted into the perennial gardens (Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ or Miscanthus purpurescens are just a couple of examples); however, there are some shorter grasses that still pack a punch, such as Toffee Twist. If perennials are what you prefer to use, fall blooming Sedum may be the way to go. One favorite of mine is called Sedum sieboldii, or October Daphne. It’s foliage is a small rosette of blue succulent leaves, and the flowers are round pink balls that open in late September or October. You can use this one to trail over the edges of pots.

Of course, there are the tried-and-true uprights like ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Autumn Fire’, if vertical height is what you need. Another great perennial for fall container gardens are coral bells (Heuchera). With so many colors on the market, you’re sure to find the size and shade you’re looking for. Breaking free of the mold is something that a gardener needs to do from time to time. Why not start a trend and try to incorporate gourds, squash or pumpkins in with your fall blooming plants. Try something new — you may be pleasantly surprised!

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Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are too often tossed unceremoniously onto the curb right after the holidays. But there’s no reason holiday evergreens can’t be allowed to serve long after the merry-making is over.

For a splash of instant green, cut the branches of pine, fir, spruce, or other needled evergreens and add them to barren window boxes or containers.

You can also use branches to protect dormant plants. A think cover of evergreen limbs helps keep the surface layer of soil moist, and also helps to stabilize soil temperature, reducing the rapid cycles of frost and thaw that can heave perennials and shrubs from the ground and rip their roots.

Christmas greenery also can be used as tracery on trellises and arbors. Held in place with plastic ties or string, cut boughs give plants like climbing roses, and vines like grapes or clematis, a good-looking shield from drying winter winds and sun.

In addition, leftover evergreens are useful for augmenting the natural foliage around a bird feeder or bath. Wild birds like protection and aren’t choosy whether their evergreen screen is living or dead.

There is an art to denuding a Christmas tree, though, and pruning shears or loppers are a must. Heavy gloves make it easier to handle the rough bark and the needles. If you must cut up the tree inside, cover the floor with a plastic sheet to prevent a mess of needles and sap.

Remove the evergreen boughs from gardens and planters when the tips of early spring bloomers, like crocus or snowdrops, have pushed about an inch out of the ground. Where no bulbs are planted, leave the branches until mid-April or whenever spring seems securely in place.

Kalanchoe can rebloom!

kalanchoe-blossfeldianaThe ubiquitous Kalanchoe (pronounced kal-an-KO-ee) is at almost every grocery store that has a floral department, and getting one as part of a get-well or birthday celebration is as common as getting a card! However, the plants are always blooming beautifully upon receipt, but when the blooms begin to fade the plant tends to look straggly and is often discarded.  Not necessary! There is nothing quite like coming in from a bitter winter’s day and seeing the mass of bright red flowers. Even the variations on red that are available — the softer apricot, deeper magenta, or singular yellow — brighten both the room and your soul. Compact, bushy, and about a foot tall, kalanchoe is common in winter, but once the flowers disappear, many people abandon them. That’s a shame, because with very little effort, they can be forced to bloom whenever you want.

Kalanchoe is what is known as a short-day plant, but it is really the length of the night that matters. For kalanchoe to set flower buds, it needs six to eight weeks of days with 14 to 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness. And uninterrupted means exactly that, so you’ll have to put it in the closet every afternoon — over in the corner where your poinsettia spends the fall, as it needs the same treatment. Pick the right closet because anything in it you might need won’t be available until morning. About a month after the dark period ends, color should be showing as the buds begin to break.

Other than that, kalanchoe is a cinch to grow when given lots of sun (except when it’s in the closet). It thrives in warmth, 65ºF or more, although it tolerates temperatures just above freezing. It should have the chance to go a bit dry between waterings, and it likes a general fertilizer every two or three weeks when new leaves are growing.

When it gets too big it can be cut back pretty hard, leaving only three leaves on each branch. If you do cut it back, wait until it has at least three pairs of new leaves on each branch (about two to three months) before tossing it back in the closet to initiate flowering.

Overwintering Geraniums

8387268_origSometimes you have a perfect summer with conditions that have contributed to the most beautiful container of geraniums you’ve ever had. What to do in the fall — let them die off and try again next year, or attempt to keep them over the winter? If you’re tempted to keep them, you have some options.

The perfect solution would be a cool, damp basement (can you say cellar?), where you could just hang them upside down. Shake the excess dirt from the roots, but leave all that clings. Loosely tie a string around the neck area, where the stem meets he roots, and use this to hang them from a rafter or beam. They should get good air circulation; be sure they don’t touch each other or anything else.

A dry basement — as long as it is cool (35º to 45ºF) — is a distant second choice. In that case, you will need to pot them up and they will need a place that’s light. They should be watered thoroughly about once a month, but let them go dry in between — they’re hardly growing.

No matter which way you store them, remove buds and flowers, where the disease botrytis hides, and any leaves that turn yellow. Cut the plants back to 6 inches after planting them outside next year.

Even thought your geraniums appear healthy, they could have picked up at least one of the many diseases that affect geraniums during the summer. When they are ready to go back outside, the geraniums will be stressed from their winter treatment, but any disease organisms will be just fine so the plants may not be as healthy as you expect. Keep a little extra in the gardening budget for replacements.

Straw Bale Gardening

by Sharon Morrisey, Horticulture Agent for Milwaukee County and advisor to UW-Extension Master Gardeners

For a new twist on container gardening, try straw bale gardening. This emerging technique skips the container and substitutes partially decomposed straw for potting mix.

It starts 11 days before planting after the bales are put in place. Lay them so the string is on the sides and not the bottom. A stake driven in at each end will help hold bales together. Tall stakes can double as end posts for vertical supports to hold vines or tomato plants.

Conditioning the bales begins with three days of thorough soaking. For each of the next three days, sprinkle 1 cup of ammonium sulfate or 1/2 cup of urea on top and water soak again.

For the next three days, use one-half as much fertilizer. On day 10, simply water. If, on4565926778_fb192ef49d_b day 11, the bales no longer feel warm on top, you can plant. Otherwise, wait until they cool to body temperature.

Transplanting into the bales only requires stabbing into the straw and prying open a space large enough for the roots. To sow seeds for individual plants, pack a little potting mixture into the openings you make, place the seed at the proper depth, cover and add a little mulch to hold moisture and prevent the potting mix from washing away. To make rows for crops, such as lettuce or spinach, use your trowel to cut a trench, fill with soil, and plant.

The rest is the same as traditional container gardening. Water daily and do not allow bales to dry out. A soaker hose running the length of each bale will make this much easier. Fertilize once a week with a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer.

Expert’s Tip: Ten Tips for A Successful Tomato Container Garden

Ann Wied, Waukesha County UW-Extension Consumer Horticulture Educator

Not enough time or space for a garden?  Tomatoes grow great in containers.  Here are a few tips to use yourself or share with others …

  1. Choose a compact, bush, or dwarf tomato variety. These tomatoes are often labeled at garden centers as “great for ctomatoes-in-containers-220x162ontainer gardening”.
  2. Buy healthy, resistant varieties.  Choose varieties that are resistant to diseases prevalent to where you live.  Look for this information on the plant tag or garden catalog.
  3. Choose a container large enough to provide support for your tomato.
  4. Don’t rush to plant your tomato. Plant near the recommended planting date for your area. Even if you can protect the plants from frost and/or cold night air, cool temperatures can keep growth slow, cause nutrient deficiencies, and prevent fruit set. In addition, once fruits start to form, cold temperatures can cause the tomatoes to become deformed.
  5. Place the container in an area that has at least 4 hours of direct sunlight each day.
  6. Water your tomato plant whenever the top 2 to 3 inches of soil is dry. This may be every day or every other day if the weather is hot and dry.
  7. When you water, water until it drains through the bottom of the pot and don’t let the plant sit in excess water.
  8. Fertilize once a month throughout the growing season with a fertilizer labeled for vegetable plants.
  9. If the tomato gets too large or bushy, support it with a small cage or stake and/or prune out some branches.
  10. Monitor for disease and insect problems. If a disease occurs, remove and destroy infected leaves or the entire plant if the disease is severe.

Don’t get rid of those leaves!

NeaveFall2The weather has been beautiful — the weather has been rainy and cold.  Welcome to Spring in Wisconsin! On those days that are beautiful, have you been cleaning out your gardens, lawns, and under your trees?  All of those wonderfully dried leaves are just waiting to be turned into nutritious compost for your gardens. Compost provides the perfect amount of food for every plant — including essential nutrients not found in commercial fertilizers. Raking compost into your turf improves the structure of the soil under your lawn. If you think that plants need chemicals to survive, just look around you!  The woods, plains, and wildflowers sustain themselves without any man-made materials.

It all starts with shredding those leaves! Whole leaves take quite a while to break down on their own, and tend to mat together.  Whole leaves just sit there cold in compost piles.  Not only don’t they help — they can actually prevent the composting process.  Shred them up, though, and you create the perfect compost makings. Remember, though, that shredding decreases the volume by a factor of ten. In other words, 10 bags of whole leaves can be shredded down to the point where they can all fit in one bag.

imagesThere are a multitude of publications that help you with the dynamics of what to use for composting, how to compost, what to add, what not to add, etc.  You can use commercially manufactured compost bins, fenced-in piles, garbage cans studded with drainage holes, or simple black garbage bags — all of these solutions and more work to create quality compost as long as you’re using the right ingredients! My favorite book is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost, which is written in plain English in a light and humorous style. There’s even a chapter on vermiculture (composting using worms). [Note: for more information on vermiculture, see our previous post here.] Another resource is a pamphlet produced by the UW-Extension Master Composter program, which can be downloaded and printed here.

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Don’t be afraid to start composting — it’s easier than it looks and you can start small. You don’t have to make enough compost for all of your gardens — just set a goal to make enough for your container plants, or for one container! Your lawn and gardens will thank you for the nutrition, and you’ll save the money you would have spent on expensive fertilizers.