Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spring Garden

Here it is January, and I've already started thinking of my spring garden. Living in an apartment, its quite difficult to have an actual garden. What counts as a garden for me is a ton of flower pots. I started the whole gardening thing last February and still have one plant left from back then although it doesn't look very good, and therefore, I didn't include a picture of it.

I am fortunate in the way my apartment is set up in that I have a large front porch area that I don't have to share with neighbors. Mine is the only apartment at the top of the stairs. I also have a slightly smaller back patio as well so places for plants aren't that difficult to find. What is a concern is finding the right plant for the right area. So here are some tips for those of you who are new to gardening like me.

The first thing to keep in mind is the lighting in the location you choose to put your plants. For example, my back patio is primarily shaded so picking shade plants is the best for that area. While it is difficult sometimes to find plants that are only specifically for shade, some plants say "Part Sun" or "Partial Shade" on the tags that come with them, and for the most part, those will still work out in a shaded area. Right now (and I haven't purchased any plants since October) I have petunias, violets, blue elf aloe, calathea (non-flowering, but decorative leaves), and a croton. Crotons by the way have quite a wide variety to choose from and are fairly easy to take care of.

My front patio gets morning light and afternoon shade which is perfect for the hot Bakersfield summers. In fact, if you live in a warm climate like I do, keep in mind that there are plants that are heat tolerant and are not desert plants. So it is possible to have flowering plants all year without having to have cacti or succulents if that's not a look that you want. Some of the ones that I have that survived summer with flying colors are gerbera daisies, ageratum, dianthus carnation, miniature roses (roses in general are very hearty), plumbago (resembles forget-me-nots quite closely), as well as celosia which comes in a variety of bright colors and shapes from spires to a curly-cue shape that looks almost like the mouth end of a clamshell.

Another great plant to keep in mind that thrives in hot summers is the Hibiscus plant. This puts out beautiful blooms of various colors. The one I have has peach colored blossoms, but is not blooming right now. They can live well planted in a pot or in the ground and its not uncommon for them to live beyond 10 years. If you have one in a pot, they can become root bound, but that is easily fixed by popping them out of the pot and trimming the roots, then putting it back in. The only drawback is that, while they are tropical plants and perfect for summer, they are not perfect for winter. If you have one and you keep it in a pot, move it inside to a sunny window during the winter and you'll have blooms during the winter as well.

Also, be sure to read all of the tags when you buy your plants because not only do you get the care and lighting information, but a lot of plants attract butterflies and will say so on the label. Many people have butterfly gardens, using only the plants that will attract them. And, red colored blooms will attract hummingbirds.

In the course of all of the plant purchasing I have learned the best places for buying plants as well as buying pots which is most important if you don't have a patch of ground to plant in. Price wise for plants places like Lowe's and Home Depot have the best plant prices. However, while your own local nursery is likely going to have higher prices, they will have an exceptionally wide variety of plants to choose from and most of them will also likely offer landscaping as well. For pots I've discovered that Rite Aid (only during the spring and summer months) as well as Big Lots have the best selection and prices for flower pots. I'm not, however, referring to the classic terra cotta pots that we see everywhere, but to the fancy decorative pots that tend to get expensive but that look great in a "Terrace Garden."

And one more thing to keep in mind that is very important to the health of your plant is proper drainage. Always be sure to buy pots that have a hole in the bottom and a tray to put under them. If you have a nice pot that doesn't have a drainage hole, you can always place gravel or moss in the bottom of it to help draw the moisture away from the roots. A good rule of thumb to go by is that the soil needs to stay moist, but not sopping wet.

And for those of you who buy spring plants for special occasions, but that don't last a long time, keep in mind that if they are from a bulb like tulips, you can take the bulbs and keep them in the freezer for planting next spring. Also keep an eye out during the fall months for crysanthemums as they are the flowering plant of the fall and have an amazing variety of flowers from huge white ones that look like snowballs to tiny daisy type flowers. And be sure to keep an eye out at your local grocery store for plant bulbs during the fall and winter that say "plant now for spring flowers" as these are a great way to get your garden started and are winter resistant.

The picture here is of a Garden Primula 'Pacifica' which I purchased in July and which survived the summer fairly well, but has been doing spectacularly during the winter.

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