Gardener: Autumn container gardening

Gardener: Autumn container gardening

Autumn container gardening

Follow our steps to create a colourful and vibrant autumn container.

Materials

  • Drill with 5/8- to 1/2-inch bit
  • Pot, about 24 inches high with a diameter of 24 inches at the top
  • Plastic saucer with a diameter of about 18 inches
  • Trowel
  • Potting soil
  • Assorted fall perennials and annuals
Planting A Container Garden
Planting A Container Garden

Tips

Put in more plants than you think you’ll need. You’ll be surprised by how many will fit and still flourish, and it’s really the only way to get a spectacular-looking container.

Fertilise once a month and water as needed, depending on the weather and amount of rain.

For cold climates, use pots made of fibreglass, which withstand freezing temperatures better than plastic and terra cotta.

Protect your potted perennials during winter if you live in a cold climate. In late fall, carry the pot to an out-of-the-way location and tip it upside down with the plants and soil left in the pot. Don’t bother trimming anything—even the grasses—because the extra foliage will provide warmth and protection during the winter. The foliage will get crushed when you tip the pot over, which is fine. The plants and soil will stay secure because the roots will have combined into a single root ball. Pile plenty of straw around the pot to insulate the plants during the winter.

When danger of frost has passed in spring, tip the pot back over, trim back the perennials, discard the old annuals, and plant new annuals in their place.

After a perennial grows for two to three years in the container, divide it so it stays healthy.

Many flower pots as a decoration in the garden
Many flower pots as a decoration in the garden

Method

Step 1: Drill drainage holes. Drill three to five drainage holes into the plastic saucer. If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, drill several of them.

Step 2: Choose pot and placement. Use a pot that’s sturdy enough to hold large plants and big enough to look visually balanced when you add tall grasses. Place the pot close to its permanent location so you won’t have to carry it far when it’s full.

Step 3: Fill with soil. Set the saucer into the pot (see step 3 photo) so it rests about 6 to 8 inches into the pot—that way, you won’t have to fill the entire container with soil, which saves money. Fill with potting soil until the soil is 2 to 3 inches from the top. Don’t fill to the brim or soil will spill out as you add plants.

Step 4: Group plants. Group together the plants you’re considering so you can look at the overall colour scheme and see how their textures and heights work together (see step 4 photo).

For a fall planting, purples, greys, silvers, and burgundies combine beautifully, especially when they have diverse textures. Think of plants such as kale, purple fountain grass, miniature asters, mums, sedum, and licorice plant. Look to recycle summer container plants—we reused Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ from a summer pot we took apart.

Step 5: Plant selections. After you remove plants from their nursery pots, use your hand or a trowel to gently spread out roots that appear root-bound (growing in a tight circle). Mums are especially prone to this.

Succulent plants growing in a terracotta pot
Succulent plants growing in a terracotta pot

To get lots of colour and size right away, put in healthy potted plants from a nursery and some well-established perennials that you (or a friend) have grown for at least a year or two. Ornamental grasses, for instance, will be taller and more lush if you divide them from a mature plant.

Produced by Kerin Redwanz; written by Michelle Leise; photographs by Chap Achen. Kerin Redwanz is a garden designer and owner of Shades of Green Landscapes in Red Wing, Minnesota. Michelle Leise is a freelance writer in Red Wing.

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Everything you need to know about a greenhouse

Everything you need to know about a greenhouse

Everything you need to know about a greenhouse

If you’ve always yearned for your own home greenhouse, or if you’re considering purchasing one in the future, there are a few things you need to know. Pick the right greenhouse, with the right features for your particular needs, and you’ll find your gardening takes on a whole new rhythm, with the garden moving from outside to inside in response to the season.

What is a greenhouse?

A greenhouse is basically an enclosed environment that has been designed with plants in mind. In the marketplace, greenhouses run the gamut from lower-end, lower-cost structures to elegant but expensive permanent buildings with architectural detailing.

In the case of greenhouses, both from a standpoint of useful lifespan and looks, you get what you pay for. Extremely inexpensive, limited-use, entry-level kits start under a couple of hundred dollars. Small, entry-level permanent greenhouses that you create from a kit can be had for under £1,000. Top-of-the-line, year-round greenhouses with electric hookups, water, automatic venting, and so on can run from £5,000 to £10,000 or even more, depending on size.

Greenhouses are a uniquely accessible product for home gardeners. A large number of hobby greenhouse manufacturers provide “kits” that allow you to construct your own greenhouse, using the manufacturer’s modular components. Many kits can be upgraded, as well, if you choose to improve your basic greenhouse at a later date.

How to get growing

One of the keys in selecting a greenhouse that is right for your style of gardening is to identify what you want to accomplish. If you simply want to extend your season a bit in either spring or fall, you may be most content with a “temporary” greenhouse that employs coverings made of “greenhouse film” or “poly film,” which are flexible sheetings much like a shower curtain. These sheets are difficult to rip or tear, and provide some protection from cold and wind. Sometimes this type of greenhouse is constructed with two layers of plastic with an airspace in between that is kept inflated with a fan to provide additional insulation. However, this type of greenhouse will generally not provide year-round protection for plants in areas where winters are cold.

When purchasing this type of greenhouse, pay attention to the warranty. The manufacturer’s guarantee is your key to the product’s useful life. Look for coverings that are UV treated, meaning that they have been specially made to resist the damaging effect of the sun. Frames for these structures can consist of anything from PVC pipe to aluminium to wood and many are semi-portable. Because of this portability, however, these structures may not be able to withstand strong winds or severe weather. Take that into account when deciding whether this will work for you.

For hobbyists who want to care for specialty plants not hardy in their areas, or who want a spot in which to start plants for next season, a higher-end, more flexible structure is needed.

However, these structures do share a few key features in common. Evaluating these features and their importance to you will help you find a greenhouse that meets both your needs and your pocketbook.

The frame

First is the frame construction. Some greenhouses offer a “skeletal” frame, where the glazing materials (the coverings that let in light) extend all the way to the base of the structure. Others consist of a frame attached to a base wall that runs around the structure with glazing above it. The choice is up to you, but remember that any solid material, such as the base wall, will restrict the amount of light that enters. However, the base wall may improve the building’s stability or insulating ability.

Redwood and aluminium are two common framing materials found in greenhouse kits, but frames can also be found which are made of treated wood, galvanised steel, or reinforced PVC. Some manufacturers do not provide actual framing materials, but instead specify a list of materials that you purchase separately from your local lumber store. You then use your frame with the manufacturer’s glazing materials. This can reduce costs, but you’ll need to be fairly handy to construct the frame itself.

Of these framing options, redwood is elegant, naturally rot resistant, and long lasting. However, manufacturers often encourage homeowners to stain redwood so it is higher maintenance. It is also among the more expensive framing options. Aluminium is strong and light, but it does not insulate as well as wood and it can also be expensive. Treated wood needs to be stained to improve its appearance and preserve its life, but it is less expensive. Reinforced PVC can be a reliable option, providing the structure is installed correctly, but some people don’t care for its appearance. The choice is yours.

The glazing

While frames may affect the aesthetics of a greenhouse, by far the most important feature is the glazing. This is the covering that lets light into the greenhouse, and yet retains heat to protect the plants inside. All glazings admit varying amounts of available light. Glass transmits the most, and it looks elegant. However, clear glass is among the more expensive glazing materials, and in areas of the country where snowfall is heavy, or weather is uncertain or quite cold, glass can be easily damaged. Single-pane glass also provides little insulation so the greenhouse will require additional insulation. In hot or sunny weather, plant scorching can be an issue unless the glass is carefully shaded to minimise light transmission.

One note here: Some do-it-yourselfers who have built their own greenhouses using insulated windows designed for houses have discovered to their dismay that warm, wet greenhouse conditions caused the windows to deteriorate quickly. Good greenhouses are specially built to accommodate extra humidity and heat and the glazing materials available for them reflect that.

Some greenhouse manufacturers offer clear acrylic as an alternative glazing material to glass. This has the benefit of being stronger than glass, while still offering a clear view through the structure.

Flat or corrugated fibreglass is another glazing choice. It is much stronger than glass, but it also is more opaque or cloudy, so it transmits less light. This can be useful in areas with the possibility of hail or where summer sun is relentless. However, fibreglass also usually requires additional insulation to be used in cold areas. Look for fibreglass that carries a good guarantee against sun damage. If you notice structures from years ago that employed fibreglass, you may notice some serious discolouration or hazing. UV treatments available today can minimise this problem.

Yet another choice for glazing is a material commonly known as polycarbonate. This plastic-like material typically consists of two thin sheets of nearly clear wall with honeycombed channels extending throughout the sheets. This construction creates trapped air space inside the chamber which provides excellent insulation. Polycarbonate transmits light well, is usually UV treated to insure long life, stands up to much harsher conditions than glass, is lighter than glass, is impact resistant, and is a good insulating material. However, it is also among the more expensive greenhouse glazing options.

Other manufacturers offer similar double-walled glazing products, made of different base products, that mimic many of the good qualities of polycarbonate, only with less expense.

Heating and cooling

Because greenhouses trap heat efficiently, in summer you’ll find this is too much of a good thing. All greenhouses need some type of venting to exchange the hotter air inside with the cooler air outside. On the least expensive type of greenhouse, these vents may be as low-tech as screened openings on either side of the shelter.

On higher-end models, a more efficient system employs roof vents. Since hot air tends to collect near the roof of any structure, these vents allow the heat to drift out of the top of the building, while vents nearer the floor draw cooler air back in. This passive air exchange is very efficient.

One note: Some vents are manually operated, meaning you’ll need to open and close them as needed. That may mean twice a day, morning and night. Forget once and a suddenly sunny day will fry your plants, or an unexpectedly cool night will freeze them. A much more convenient system employs a self-powered roof vent opener which works on a spring system. As a waxy material within the opener heats up, it expands, gradually opening the vent as the temperature rises. When the material cools, it contracts, thereby closing the vent. Thermostats are also available which will automatically open your vents or turn on a system of exhaust fans when the temperature hits a predetermined level. These vents flush hot air out while drawing cooler air in at floor level.

Although vents will help cool a greenhouse, in summer preventing heat is critical. Shading a greenhouse is one of the best ways to minimise heat build-up. For some greenhouses, you can apply a special removable “paint” to your glazing that is somewhat opaque when dry. This restricts the amount of light that enters. There are also shade cloths, aluminium roll-up walls, fibreglass panels, and so on that will all provide some shade and therefore cooling.

These passive measures will not be enough in greenhouses in very hot areas. Some greenhouses may need evaporative coolers, sometimes called “swamp coolers,” in order to be used year-round. In these systems, fans are used to evaporate water, which draws heat from the air thereby cooling the structure.

While keeping a greenhouse cool is important in summer, keeping it warm is key in winter. Correct siting is important to insure that your greenhouse will take advantage of all available winter light. (Any greenhouse manufacturer will be able to help you find the best siting for your particular area.)

Even with good siting, if you use your greenhouse only to overwinter marginally hardy plants, some supplemental heat will probably be necessary in cold areas. However, if your dream is to raise tropical plants or heat-loving orchids, you’ll need to keep the greenhouse much warmer (and you may need to supply supplemental light, as well.) Again, a manufacturer can offer you more specifics.

The most efficient greenhouse heaters are generally either electric or propane-based. Other forms of heaters are usually discouraged either because they are not safe, or not good for the plants. Since heat rises, you may need a fan near the ceiling to force warm air back down when you are heating the greenhouse. Special recirculating fans are available that keep air moving gently around your plants, insuring a proper distribution of carbon dioxide and moisture.

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Good ways to look after your inside the home plants

Good ways to look after your inside the home plants

Good ways to look after your inside the home plants

Let’s start out by acknowledging the obvious: You don’t need fancy tools and supplies to grow houseplants. I’ve seen people water their houseplants with a wine bottle and trim them with a steak knife. I admit to loosening the crusted soil surface of my houseplants with the same fork that twirled my ramen noodles at lunch.

But with all the cute, cool, reasonably priced houseplant tools and accessories available these days, it’s worth considering at least a few of them.

Inside the home plants
Inside the home plants

Tools you can use

Most important is a watering can. Although nearly any vessel will hold water, an attractive, well-made watering can makes the chore infinitely more pleasurable. It may even make you want to water more regularly.

Other tools, too, will help you grow houseplants more successfully and enjoyably. A moisture meter takes the guesswork out of watering. Cute miniature hand tools make you feel like Gulliver cultivating your Lilliputian houseplants. A sink hose lets you soak large numbers of houseplants quickly. A portable potting tray makes repotting less of a hassle. Hand snips help you groom your plants precisely and quickly—a treat if you’ve ever sawed away on woody houseplants with scissors or attempted delicate leaf removal with oversized garden shears.

For plants with picky light needs, a light meter calculates which spots in your house receive which type of light, so you can position plants where they’ll thrive. You won’t have to wait until light-related problems, such as legginess or disease, tell you it’s time to move the plant.

Inside the home plants
Inside the home plants

Missing mister

One thing you won’t see in the accompanying listing of tools and accessories is a mister. That’s because the jury is still out on their effectiveness.

True, one of the main problems for many houseplants is the lack of humidity in the average home, especially in winter. But cute as those little misters can be, the spray doesn’t significantly increase humidity for an extended time. On some shiny-leaved plants, the water simply makes unattractive water spots. And some plants downright hate water on their leaves; in fact, they’re prone to disease when moist.

However, Julie Bawden-Davis, author of Indoor Gardening the Organic Way (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007), says she prefers to mist some plants. She says that for most houseplants—except fuzzy-leaved ones such as African violets—regular misting lightly washes foliage and discourages pests such as spider mites that like dry conditions.

If you’re serious about increasing the humidity in your home—a huge boost for the vast majority of houseplants—run a humidifier in the room or install a humidifier that works with your furnace to disperse humidity throughout the house.

Inside the home plants
Inside the home plants

Watering can

Choose a watering can that holds a good amount of water, so you don’t have to refill often—a real plus if you’re adding liquid fertiliser. Look for a long, narrow spout that can work its way through foliage to deliver water straight to the soil.

  • Splurge: Watering cans cost £5 to £60.
  • Save: Use plastic cups, old wine bottles, or any other container that pours water.

Moisture meter

If you purchase just one special houseplant tool, this should be the one. It takes the guesswork out of watering plants. Simply insert the long metal prong into the soil for an instant reading. You can check the surface of the soil compared to the bottom of the pot, which might be dry or soggy (neither one is good; you’re shooting for evenly moist). Most meters come with a small chart listing ideal moisture levels for popular houseplants. Be aware that accuracy can be way off if the soil is high in accumulated salts. Also, meters wear out over time.

  • Splurge: Moisture meters cost £10 to £30.
  • Save: Water when soil is dry to the touch.
plants indoor interior design
plants indoor interior design

Hand tools

These cute little tools spoon in potting soil, rake up fallen plant debris, and loosen and aerate the surface of the soil, which gets encrusted over time.

  • Splurge: Houseplant hand tools cost £10 to £30.
  • Save: Use the contents of your silverware drawer.
  • Mini indoor hose

If you have lots of plants, this can be a handy gadget. Attach the hose to the faucet, unreel the hose, and water. Some hoses stretch up to 60 feet, so you can water plants on your apartment balcony.

  • Splurge: Indoor hoses cost £30 to £60.
  • Save: Fill up a container and water plants the old-fashioned way.

Portable potting tray

If you’ve ever turned your kitchen counter or dinner table into a potting bench, you’ll appreciate this. Pile tools and bags into the tray when you’re done and stash.

  • Splurge: Portable potting trays cost £15 to £25.
  • Save: Pot plants in a shallow plastic storage box.

Hand snips

Some plant stems and leaves defy a pair of household scissors. And the clunky hand shears you use on the bushes outside can be overkill. A pair of snips, perfect for the in-between scale of houseplants, are a joy to use.

  • Splurge: Hand snips cost £10 to £30.
  • Save: Use scissors.
living room indoor plants
living room indoor plants

Light meter

It’s difficult to figure out the ever-changing light in your home, since it changes through the day and the seasons. How nice to not have to wait for spindly growth or scorched leaves to figure out that a plant is getting too little or too much light. Depending on how well the meter is designed, you’ll have to take multiple readings, learn about foot candles (the measurement for light), and check out some conversion charts. Not for the math- and science-adverse.

  • Splurge: Basic models cost about £10; professional-level models run up to £350.
  • Save: Go online or check some books out of the library to learn what kind of light each plant needs.

Poisonous Houseplants to Watch Out For

Houseplants help keep spirits up during the winter months. But if you have children or pets, take note of several common houseplants whose leaves are considered poisonous:

  1. Croton (Codiaeum variegatum)
  2. Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia spp.)
  3. English ivy (Hedera helix)
  4. Philodendron (Philodendron spp.)
  5. Pothos (Epipremnum spp.)
  6. Swiss-cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)
  7. Umbrella tree (Schefflera spp.)

What about those poinsettias, you ask? They’re not poisonous, even though generations of gardeners have passed down the myth. For more information about poisonous plants, contact your local poison control centre.

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