Photo: Container gardens — like the hanging baskets Nikki Johnston puts up at Indian Creek Nursery & Garden Center — might be just the ticket for a gardener limited by space, mobility, climate or other factors.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Omaha.com
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By Carol Bicak
World-Herald Staff Writer
Deb Newell has been a gardener all of her life, but when she moved to the Dundee area of Omaha from an acreage near Sioux City, she had to think smaller.
She switched to container gardening.
Want to pretty up your front porch or steps? Have a tiny yard? Want to grow your own herbs? Can’t plant a regular garden because pain makes it impossible to bend down or work on the ground?
Your solution also might be container gardening.
Container gardens are fairly easy to start and maintain, and they can add spots of beauty to a yard, deck or porch.
The first thing you need to consider is what type of pot or pots you want to use, said Scott Farrington, owner of Indian Creek Nursery & Garden Center in Omaha.
Most fall into three main categories, he said.
Plastic pots are the least expensive and they don’t weigh as much as some other containers, so they could be bigger and hold more plants.
They would be easier to move.
Clay pots are an old stand-by. “Some people love the look,” Farrington said. They are heavier, so more difficult to move, and they should be brought indoors in the winter.
A step up from clay are ceramic pots. They come in a wide range of colors or have decorations. “They hold up better in our weather,” Farrington said.
He pointed out a variety of other containers: cloth bags, hanging baskets, metal buckets. Anything can be used as long as there is good drainage.
After you have decided on containers, the next big step is soil. “It’s not best to use soil from your yard,” Farrington said, adding that yard soil can have clays that won’t allow good drainage and you can pick up pests you don’t want.
Try to get a good mix that contains peat, compost and vermiculite or perlite. Some premixed potting soils are created especially for container gardens, Farrington said, and gardeners can find recipes for mixing their own on numerous websites.
“Soil is the most important thing for a container garden,” Farrington said. “That’s where I would spend my money.”
When asked what she would advise the beginning container gardener to consider, Newell also pointed to soil. “Get the best dirt you can,” she said. “And change it every year or so, because it will lose nutrients.”
Container gardens can be used for flowers and greenery or for growing vegetables.
If it’s flowers you want to grow, the colors, sizes and shapes are infinite. Farrington suggests the “thrillers and spillers” combination: a tall plant or focal point in the center, with trailing along the perimeter.
Newell concurred. She starts with a “centerpiece” plant, usually a perennial that she can winter in the house. Then each spring she adds a different variety of other plants around her centerpiece. “It cuts the cost,” she said.
One thing that helps determine what you plant is where the container garden is going to sit. Will it be in full sun or in a shady area?
Avoid mixing plants that need full sun with plants that can’t take it in the same container.
House plants can make beautiful container gardens, Farrington said. Just take them indoors in the fall. The same applies to tropical blooming plants such as hibiscus or bougainvillea. Remember that moving things indoors may be heavy work so plan accordingly.
Another advantage of container gardens, Newell said, is they make it easier to adapt to Nebraska’s changing weather. From one year to next there can be too much rain or none. In the spring, a week of warm can be followed by a week of cold. By using containers, she can move her garden around or even bring her plantings inside, if necessary.
When it comes to growing vegetables, Farrington said, “the sunnier the better.”
Tomatoes or peppers lend themselves well to containers and are a popular choice for beginning gardeners.
“You should pick vegetables that are worth growing in a container,” Farrington said. “Things that are expensive at the grocery store. Things that are better fresh.”
Some things just aren’t a great choice for container gardeners, he added. “To me, lettuce is kind of a waste. Corn’s not worth it.”
In fact, anything that produces only one crop should be avoided, he said.
The last thing to consider is fertilizers and insecticides. Consult with other gardeners, a garden center or the University of Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy County about the best products for you.
This area’s last frost date is May 10, so Farrington advises not planting until that date or later unless you are starting plants in the house. “Don’t go too early,” he said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1067, firstname.lastname@example.org
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