There are no excuses in gardening.
Whether there is acres of land available or merely a porch step, sidewalk or balcony, there is no excuse for not gardening. Container gardeners have known this for years as they squeeze plants into every available space, not to mention anything that will hold some sort of plant.
Certified Master Gardeners Nancy Kovach and Betty Bailes are experts in container gardens, having taught hundreds of people the art for more than 15 years.
"I have a white wicker chair filled with flowers that I picked up along the road in someone's trash,'' Bailes said. "You don't have to buy expensive containers; use what you have."
Kovach's and Bailes' love of containers and container gardening is evident in the Trumbull County Master Gardener display this week at the Trumbull County Fair in Bazetta.
Master Gardeners have adopted this year's theme as "Plant Your Garden Wherever You Are." Bailes would add, plant your garden in whatever you have, including old work boots.
The boot garden Bailes planted more than 15 years ago is only one of several container gardens she and Kovach teach to area clubs and organizations. In addition to the boot garden, other containers on display include the wicker chair garden, a rusted, enamel dishpan garden and a cast iron skillet birdbath garden, all created by Bailes and Kovach.
The Trumbull County Master Gardener display booth is located in the agricultural building near the grandstand at the fairgrounds.
Container gardening is an art form that has been around for centuries. But other than interesting containers, why would a gardener with plenty of space want to stuff plants into such small spaces? Most likely it is because they can. But like the photographer who sees photo opportunities everywhere or the writer who can find a story in anything, gardeners are never without a place to put a plant.
An important component in any container garden is drainage. Even the old boot has drainage holes drilled into the sole. If your container is porcelain or ceramic, drill several holes in the bottom with a ground tungsten carbide tip drill bit. Clay containers also can be drilled with a masonry bit. Use a slow speed to avoid cracking the container and wear safety glasses to protect from flying debris.
Non-porous containers include those that are glazed, metal or glass and will hold moisture longer. Unglazed terra cotta or clay pots are porous and will allow moisture to evaporate through the container walls. Plants in these containers will need watered more often. Window boxes, standard-shaped planters and baskets are often sold with plastic liners to keep water from evaporating too quickly. If these liners don't have drainage holes, drill a few so the water flows through easily. Most container plants need watering more often than garden plants and in the heat of mid-summer, hanging containers sometimes need watering twice a day.
Even with all of the watering, your plants won't thrive if they sit in muddy or boggy soil.
Many gardeners have their own favorite potting mix recipe to use in containers. Homemade mixes are usually made up of packaged potting soil, peat moss and perlite. If using sphagnum peat moss to line containers, moisten it first by soaking it in a bucket of water for several minutes. Squeeze out the excess moisture as you would a sponge. Avoid using regular garden soil for container plants as it often contains too much clay and will not let water flow smoothly.
A relatively new product made with hydrophilic polymers are hard, crystal-like granules that absorb water and slowly release it into the soil. Other materials used in soil for water absorption are gel-like products that achieve the same results. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions when using any substance that contains polymers or chemicals. Too much hydrogel in the soil can cause the plant to actually pop out of the container from the soil's heaving due to high water absorption.
Some perennials can be planted in containers, although most gardeners prefer to use annuals. Bulbs also can be used if they are given adequate cold treatment, which depending on the bulb, could be 12 to 14 weeks. If left outdoors, be sure your container can withstand the freezing and thawing conditions of winter. Clay and terra cotta containers, as well as some made with concrete and cement will crack and fall apart from the moisture in the soil freezing and heaving.
It is even possible to grow vegetables in containers. Dwarf fruit trees and shrubs will grow in large barrels and bush type plants will do well in small containers. Herbs are often grown in containers on a sunny windowsill or near a kitchen door for convenience. There are even patio tomato varieties, including cherry, pear and grape tomatoes that thrive in the right containers. All they need is lots of sunlight, water and regular feeding to provide enough fresh food throughout the season.
At the end of the season, removed spent flowers and vegetables from their containers. Leftover soil can be added to the compost pile, but should not be reused in containers the following year. Containers should be cleaned before storing by scrubbing with a mixture of one part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water to kill any pathogens that might have set up housekeeping during the growing season. For more information on container gardening, contact The Ohio State University Extension Trumbull County Master Gardener hotline at 330-637-3908 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.