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Planting an Early Spring Container Garden

 
 

As a gardener, you will understand that gardening itch. You know that itch one gets when the winters seem to be never ending and the peaks of bright sun have you daydreaming of dirt under your fingernails and the wind blowing through your hair. While I have tried the treatment of indoor gardening to reduce my symptoms, this just does not seem the same and I cannot wait to get outside to garden.

In the past, I just sat and suffered through the symptoms but this all changed when I started early spring container gardening. Yes, it takes work. Yes, it takes planning and sometimes caring for these container gardens feels like taking care of a child but……if you suffer from the gardening itch then it is worth it.

To be successful in this type of gardening, you first need to know your local area or what I should say your USDSA Plant Hardiness Zone. Once you know that, the plant world is your oyster.

Once you know what your zone is, you can begin to look at your gardening choices. First, many fall planted bulbs, which will bloom in the spring have a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone range of 3 through 9. But before you run to the plant nursery, make sure to read the particular requirements of these bulbs. Fall planted bulbs that fall under this category include crocus, tulips, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, dwarf iris, and daffodils. If spring flowering bulbs is something you would have interest in, you will first need to start in the fall but…….for those bulbs that you want in a container garden, you are not going to plant in the ground. What you will do though is plant them in pots, which are then planted in the ground. This will allow the bulbs to get the cold exposure they need without you having to dig up your landscape looking for the bulbs. When using this approach though, it is easier to simply plant the bulbs in soil and then plant the pot but do not cover the pot with soil. To keep rodents from digging up the bulbs, cover the top of the pot with chicken wire that is secured to the pot.

Depending on your area, you will then dig up the planted pot and remove the bulbs. Once that has happened, you are ready to place them in your container garden at the proper depth for the variety.

While bulbs are wonderful for spring color, what do you do after the early spring bulbs have finished? Well, the answer is simple. You supplement color with perennials. As before, there are several different perennials that can take that early spring chill and have a vast USDA Plant Hardiness Zone range of 3 through 9. Again, prior to purchasing make sure that your selected perennial fits into your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.

What kind of perennials can you expect to choose from? Well, you can look forward to Virginia bluebells, bergenias, hellebores, English daisies, primroses, and one of my favorite pansies.  

Ok, while you may have thought of bulbs and perennials for early spring container gardening, you may not have considered shrubs and trees. There are numerous shrubs and trees that work out perfectly fine in containers in a temporary situation. This includes azaleas, rhododendrons, winter hazels, magnolias, winter jasmine, and forsythias. These plants also come in a wide range of USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, which include 4 through 9.

Finally, the last group of plants is the annuals. No there are not as many of these to pick from but you cannot have everything. Two of my favorites are African and Marguerite daisies.

When it comes to creating this type of container you do not have the worry of what type of container to use. Why? Because this type of planter is not designed for long term use and should be dismantled prior to cold weather. In doing so, this is a chance to let your creative juices flow. There are no rules when it comes to the proper type of container except one and that is drainage. It is better to have drainage holes in the container that trying to pour off the water from spring rains. The only other requirement is that you pick a container that fits the amount of plant material you are going to use along with the style and size of that material. This is like the story of Cinderella and the Glass Slipper. Do not try to fit and tree in a four-inch pot. In doing so, you will want to know the plants you want to use prior to pot selection. While sometimes good deals pop up on plant material, it is a wonderful idea if this type of container garden is going to be in your gardening toolbox to keep around several different style containers just for these opportunities.

Next, planning out your container arrangement on paper prior to planting is crucial if you are a newbie. Once the plan is complete, and the container has been cleaned and sterilized, you are ready to fill it with a good, well draining potting soil.

After that is done, plant according to your design; gently push down on the soil and water in.

Now, what do you do if you do not have an assortment of large pots to contain all these plants? Well, you can get the same look by using individual pots that only contain one plant and arrange them on a hard surface much like you would a flower arrangement.

Yes, I know this is all good but every area has that surprise weather. Well, to reduce the chance of having to carry everything into the house or garage, only start this process when the low for the night is only 32 degrees Fahrenheit, not any lower. If you do have a situation by which the temperature does dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, cover with an old sheet. On the other hand, if the cold snap is going to be longer, you will need to bring the plants into a protected area.   

Finally, enjoy the process. Some plants that are designed to grow in your area may suffer from this type of planting. Others that you bought on a chance may flourish with no explanation as to why. The key is to enjoy yourself and treat that gardener’s itch with a bit of soil underneath your fingernails.


 

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When to Harvest Squash

Winter squash is ready for harvest after the rind hardens and surface color dulls.

The vines will have dried and the skins are hard and can't be scratched with a fingernail.

Make sure you get them in before the first hard frost.


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