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Into the Garden: Keeping containers lush takes more than just water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fertilize, fertilize, fertilize. That's the recommendation from top gardeners when it comes to container gardening.

I'm always overenthusiastic in the cool days of spring. I buy too many plants, put them in too many pots, and put them in every out-of-the-way corner of the landscape.

By summer, I'm underenthusiastic and just worn out from dragging that hose to water -- and many of my containers look less than pretty.

In Fine Gardening magazine, Jennifer Benner suggests there's more to container garden success than water -- fertilizer and pruning/deadheading can make all the difference in the world.

This summer, I did one of the things Benner swears by for spectacular pots. I added a balanced, granular, time-release fertilizer to the potting mix at planting time.

But now I need to go to the next level -- she suggests feeding the pots with a water-soluble fertilizer, which roots can take up instantly, about a month after planting. She mixes the liquid fertilizer at half-strength -- because the soil already contains granular fertilizer -- and applies it at watering time every two to three weeks until the end of the season.

I'm a pot primper, and that's one of the things that helps my pots stay nice. I deadhead, and I'm not afraid to pull out a bad plant or whack back a straggly vine. If it's brown, I take it down.

I have tropical banana plants in several containers. These were plentiful and reasonably priced this spring (must have been the Big Box Store "Plant of 2012"). Many of the leaves were shredded by the winds, but I trimmed them and hope the plants will survive. As long as there are leaves that can feed the plants, they should be fine. The stalk is a bundle if feeding tubes, so unlike hardwood plants the feeding structures are clear through the plant in separate bundles.

Finally, the article suggests using saucers under pots to save water. I've always put saucers under my pots, and it does allow the dry soil to wick up the water from below. I've been watching the saucers carefully, however, to make sure I'm not breeding mosquitoes.

The late-June/early-July storms wreaked havoc on several of my larger pots and on many of my houseplants that were summering outdoors. Along with about a dozen large trees, I watched in horror as the whipping winds took many potted plants and smashed them on the back patio and deck.

During Storm Two, as we like to call it, some of the plants that I righted after Storm One tumbled again. This time there was no saving them as the pots smashed and the roots were damaged beyond repair. Sad day at the Busse house.

I needed to pare down my houseplants, but I wanted to be the one to choose which ones to keep rather than allowing Mother Nature to do that for me.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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