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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label small space gardening. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label small space gardening. Show all posts

      Saturday, June 13, 2009

      It's not too late!

      Here we are in the middle of June. Have you planted anything yet? Don't panic...it's not too late to start an herb garden in a window box.

      One of the advantages of growing your herbs in a window box is that they can be placed conveniently near the kitchen (outside the kitchen window, on the stoop, hanging from the back fence.) The closer and easier your herbs are to pinch, the more often you'll find yourself reaching for a fragrant leaf or two.

      If you're just getting started now, buy small plants instead of seeds for an earlier harvest. Most garden centers and farmers' markets sell herbs in 4" pots. Allow each herb six inches of growing space. In other words, if you have a 24" window box, you can plant 4 herbs; a 36" window box has space for 6 herbs.

      Be sure you group herbs together that require the same growing conditions. For full sun try basil, thyme, sage, dill, parsley, cilantro, or fennel. A part shade location is fine for rosemary, bay leaf, chives, or lemon verbena. (These herbs can also take full sun.)

      A word of warning: If you have your heart set on oregano or mint, DO NOT include them in a window box with other herbs. Oregano and mint, while delicious, don't play well with others. They'll quickly take over any container they're planted in, so give them their own pots.

      The first step is to cover the drainage holes in the bottom of your window box with pottery shards or pieces of screening or landscape cloth. This prevents soil from running out the holes. If your window box doesn't have drainage holes, now is the time to drill them: 1/2 inch holes every six inches should do the trick.

      Add enough soil to the bottom of the box so that when the herbs are in place, the top of the soil will be an inch or two below the rim of the box; this helps prevent messy spill-overs when you water. Be sure to maintain the original planting level of the herbs: don't expose the roots by planting too high or cover the stem by planting too low.

      Take your herbs out of their pots, or, if they're in biodegradable peat pots, peel off the top edge so whatever is left will be below the soil. If you leave the peat pot exposed to the air it will wick moisture away from the root ball, where it's needed.

      Place your herbs to see how you like the arrangement, then plant, firming in the soil around the roots as you go. You want each herb's roots to make good contact with the soil. The final step is to water, which you should do thoroughly! Thoroughly means until water runs out the bottom of the window box. This run-off tells you the entire volume of soil has been saturated.

      How often you have to water your window box will depend on how hot it is, how sunny it is, and how much it rains! In the middle of summer, you might need to water every day. This self-watering window box is from and the reservoir holds enough water to get you through 3-7 days, depending on the weather. It's a reliable and effective labor saving device and I recommend them to anyone who likes to take a long weekend off in the summer without worrying about who's going to water the herb garden.

      Sunday, May 10, 2009

      bigger than a bread box (barely)

      Do you fear the tropical plant? If your answer is yes I won't hold it against you. You're probably just uninformed. The fact is that LOTS of our easiest, most popular garden annuals are tropical plants. In their native habitats they live for years, but since they're not frost-hardy, they work as annuals in our temperate gardens.

      Coleus? Impatiens? Caladium? All tropicals. You've been growing them for years and never even knew...

      There are also plenty of tropical plants we use as houseplants.

      That's right. Tropicals.

      New York City in summer offers a pretty close approximation of the tropics: hot and humid. So why not take advantage of that, and use a combination of tropicals to plant a container garden? By incorporating traditional houseplants into your outdoor display you do yourself several favors:

      1) You'll be expanding your plant palette and insuring that YOUR window box doesn't look like everybody else's.
      2) You'll be able to start out with bigger, beefier plants than you would if you were drawing only from traditional annuals. It's a lot easier and less expensive to find a 3 foot tall dracaena to use as a centerpiece than it is to buy a 3 foot tall fuchsia standard.
      3) You can bring your favorite plants indoors before frost hits and enjoy them all winter long.

      I do this every year for a client who has three planter boxes on a second floor balcony. Each box is 4 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. The location gets NO direct sun, so I choose shade plants that deliver most of their color via foliage, not flowers. I've found the mini-impatiens (in this case Firefly Blush Pink) bloom better in low light than many other impatiens.

      The boxes look full right from the start and all sorts of surprises emerge over the growing season. Did you notice the rex begonia vine in the background?

      No? You will when it's 15 feet of glorious purple, silver, and green foliage crawling all over the railing.

      We can't all get away someplace lush and tropical for vacation, but if you've got a few containers, you can create a vacation landscape in your own back yard.

      Saturday, May 2, 2009

      a pot full of lettuces

      I was tempted to post another knotweed recipe today. (I started a batch of wine this morning!) But since it's possible you may not all share my fascination with foraging, I thought I'd get off my wild foods horse and talk about lettuce. Because despite our two days of 90 degree weather last week, this is lettuce season.

      Lettuce is wonderfully suited to city gardens for several reasons:

      1) City gardens are usually small, and city gardeners have to make the most of their limited space. Lettuce has a small footprint. A 24 inch pot can hold 12-15 heads of lettuce. Really.
      2) With a shallow root system, lettuce grows blissfully well in containers; 8 inches of depth will suffice. If all you have is a few pots on a terrace or stoop, lettuce won't know the difference.
      3) It's an early (cool weather) crop, so you can re-use the container later in the season for a second, warm weather vegetable. When your lettuce starts to bolt (i.e. it gets leggy, bitter, and sets flower buds), the weather and soil are warm enough for eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers, all of which thrive in high heat. What could be more efficient than using one container to produce two edible crops?
      4) No store bought lettuce compares with home grown. When your salad was picked a mere 10 minutes before serving the taste is incomparable: sweet, succulent, and alive.

      It's too late to start seed now for a spring crop, but flats and plugs of small plants are available at almost every garden center and big box store. You can also buy seeds now to plant in September for a fall harvest.

      Lettuces grow best in full sun and moist soil, but if your garden is partly shady, they're still worth trying. The heads may not get to be as large and full as the heads you see at the green market, but with 4 hours of sun you'll still produce some choice edibles.

      Notice the netting? If you have a problem with pigeons, you may want to cover your greens. I've seen city pigeons decimate a leafy crop in a matter of minutes; don't let it happen to you.

      Try a combination of lettuces: red sails, romaine, green leaf, butterhead, and some arugula for a little bite. And if you enjoy foraging (anyone?) throw in a few garlic mustard leaves, watercress, and some chickweed. You'll never look at a supermarket salad bar again.

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