This post was originally written by Kerry Sugrue, former Social Media Specialist at Apartments.com.
May is the perfect time to start thinking about container gardening at your apartment community, so we asked our friends at Gethsemane Garden Center for some advice. Check out these five tips for keeping your property blooming this season.
Summer will be on its way in no time! Before you head to your local gardening center, here are a few criteria you should consider to help you select the perfect flowers, edibles and containers for your space; and achieve success in your gardening endeavors.
1. What type of sun exposure do you have?
When growing in containers, either inside or outside on a deck or patio, light exposure is very important. You may look at a plant that requires full sun and not know what that means. To break it down:
- Full Sun = 6-8 hours of sunlight
- Partial Sun = 4 hours of sunlight
- Partial Shade = 2-3 hours of sunlight
- Shade = 2 or less hours of sunlight
Which direction you face also plays a part in the type of sunlight you get. For instance; western and southern facing homes get a longer afternoon sun. This is ideal for many plants, including most edibles, which need full sun to partial sun (be mindful of any neighborhood buildings that will block your light) for continual harvesting of herbs, vegetables or fruits during the season.
2. Be aware of the wind
This is something not all gardeners consider when choosing where and what to plant. For example, we are located in the Windy City and the breeze off the lake can be uncomfortable for plants. Many taller edibles, such as tomatoes, dill and parsley, can actually break in gusty winds. Also, hot, windy days can evaporate water more quickly, requiring you to water more often. In May it’s not unheard of to have a cold spell and wind chills affect your plants, too. Most annuals and edibles need to be covered if the temperature falls below 40 degrees. You can protect your plants by covering them with a sheet or freeze cloth. If the container is small, you can cover it with an empty bucket or box (make sure to weigh it down, so the wind doesn’t knock it off). Delicate herbs, like basil, should be brought inside.
3. What size container is best?
Know what kind of space you’re working with when you go to the gardening center to select your container. Size can be hard to judge when looking at a container in the store. Having measurements will help you stay on track. In addition, it is important to consider what you are planting. Tomatoes, for example, grow tall and have long roots. If you want to grow tomatoes, you need at least a five gallon container for one plant. Once you know what size container fits in your community, it will be a lot easier selecting which plants and what quantity you can grow in your space.
Remember; all containers need drainage holes. If you purchase a container from Gethsemane without a hole, we will drill one for you. Ask your local garden center if they can do the same. If you try to grow plants without proper drainage, water will build-up at the bottom and cause root-rot.
4. How much are you willing to water?
When choosing what you want to grow, think about how much time you have to give to your plants. Some plants are more draught tolerant and can withstand a little unintended neglect, while others are much more delicate, needing you to remember to water them regularly. Soil in containers will dry out more quickly than soil in the ground, so even if your containers are outside, you should not depend on rain to quench their thirst. The best way to tell if your plant needs water is to simply stick your finger into the soil. If a few inches down into the soil is still damp, you don’t need to water. If it is dry as you push your finger down, then you will want to water. Be sure you are watering deep in your containers for healthy roots. It is important to see water coming out of the drainage holes before you stop. Gethsemane does carry some self-irrigating containers, such as Earthboxes, that have become very popular. They are designed so you can water less often, and your plants still get all the water they need.
Helpful hint: Water your plants in the morning, not at night. The damp soil will give your plants plenty to drink during the hot afternoon sun. If you water at night, the sun cannot evaporate water off the plant’s leaves, making it more susceptible to disease.
5. Plant maintenance
Once you have your flowers and edibles planted, you want to get the most out of them. Remember to dead-head and fertilize. Flowers take a lot of energy from your plant. By removing old blooms, or dead-heading, you are directing all of your plant’s energy to producing new flowers. This will help keep your containers looking lush and full, making room for healthier plants. When you have herbs, you will be harvesting instead of dead-heading. Make sure you harvest from the top down. This will help your plant stay strong and grow new leaves for you to enjoy.
When planting in containers you always want to start with a rich potting soil. This will give your plants the nutrients it needs. As those nutrients get used up by the plant, you need to be adding more. Most garden centers have lots of options for adding nutrients; including organic fertilizers. It is helpful to use a slow release fertilizer that can be mixed into the soil and will slowly break down with each watering. This will keep a steady supply of nutrients for your plants and give you less to worry about.
Are there any gardening tips you have picked up along the way or questions you have? Make sure to share them in the comments section below.