When I first moved to my new place a little over a year ago, I was thrilled to once again be able to garden. Being trapped in an apartment with no green space in the middle of a huge city made me crave the touch of green things. Being able to go barefoot in the grass once more has been amazing, as has my opportunity to be able to garden. I have made the most of it, adding plants all throughout the growing season. I’ve learned a few things over the past year or so of container gardening, and while I’m no gardening pro, I’m going to share some of what I learned container gardening with you.
1 | Hardiness Zone 9b Sure Isn’t 5b
I’m used to zone 5b. Growing seasons last from May to September with cold winters full of snow. Yeah, not so much here. It’s been warm enough that my South African Daisies have come back for round two of flowers! I’ve had to water plants every day throughout the summer, and find the shadiest parts of the yard to keep even full sun plants from getting sunburned! Sun here is no joke, and the hot weather gives me the opportunity to grow tropical plants and have a growing season that to my view is insanely long.
No matter where you are gardening, get to know your hardiness zone. It will only help you, this is especially true if you are new to the area and it’s not a climate you are used to!
2 | Never Enough Plants…Or Containers
The spring and summer were filled with weekend trips to the local nursery and me bringing home new plants or containers, or both. Because well, those plants just needed a home, and oh, once I got home I needed more containers! Oops, too many containers? Better get some more plants! It’s a never-ending cycle. I guess you could be organized and figure out ahead of time how many containers you need, of what size and type for whatever you are planning on planting. But where’s the fun in that?
3 | Planting from Seed is Hard
Would you believe I have seedlings just now growing after a summer spent as seeds buried in the dirt? Or small seedlings doing a lot of nothing all summer? Those onions & scallions have now taken off, and I have new lavender seedlings growing strong….and some things I’m not sure what they are, but they are growing too. Last spring I lost many seedings though. They grew into small seedlings before I transplanted them and put them outside. Some did okay, others not so much.
Next year I will be opting for seedlings. They are easier to grow and as a beginning gardener that’s more my style. It does mean I will have to wait slightly longer in the spring to plant but I’ll have to deal with that. For me, once the temps are consistently above freezing it means spring, so from about February on I’m already eager for things to plant in what seems like a quickly approaching spring. But since this is 9b after all, I do have to wait a little longer than that. While green, growing things race to bloom in 5b, here they take a slower, longer growing route.
4 | Soapy Water for Aphids
Aphids decimated my husband’s bonsai tree and many of my plants & flowers. Fortunately, soapy water gets rid of them like a dream. A couple sprays and they were gone, then the poor plants could recover from getting eaten. The earlier you catch the aphids the better, so keeping an eye out for them and other pests is key. Don’t wait until it’s too late or they will eat everything!
5 | Cabbage Gets Eaten by Everything
My cabbage was a huge failure. It got eaten by aphids, once it recovered from that it got eaten by cabbage loopers (which then moved on to my basil). from which it slightly recovered only to be eaten again. By this point in time, I gave up on them. They need to be in an enclosure covered by a net because that’s the only way to keep them safe. Next year I will not be growing them, and instead focusing on other plants.
6 | ALL THE TOMATOES!
Our tomatoes are STILL going strong. They produced fruit from when we got them in late spring/early summer until August. In September they took a small break before coming back for round two. There are lots of flowers on both of my plumb tomato plants, and I’m eagerly awaiting them to see how long they will go for. Tomato plants are also HUGE! Mine are as tall as I am, I don’t remember them being so big! I was really surprised by that. More tomatoes will be planted next year, and I’d like to have enough to make some tomato sauce to can.
7 | Spiders are My Friends
Spiders are welcome in my garden. Spiders made their home between my tomatoes, along with my fence, in my morning glories, and by the back door. They are now large banana spiders, but they started out pretty small. Once they arrived my garden was very much mosquito free. I welcome my spidery friends to my garden and told them to keep an eye on my plants for me. Which they did. So thank you spidery-ones, come to my garden anytime.
8 | Plant ALL THE BASIL!
It takes a lot of basil to make pesto! I LOVE pesto and the 3 small batches I made just weren’t enough, I need more! So next spring I’ll be planing SO MUCH BASIL. There will be pesto for everything! Also, if you do happen to have a lot of basil and make a lot of pesto, you can freeze pesto! It’s easy, just don’t add the cheese and toss it in the freezer. You can use icecube trays or any other freezer safe container. To keep it green make sure it’s airtight.
9 | My Garden Plan Went Out the Window
I had a nice little garden plan, it went out the window almost immediately. A trip to the nursery made me come home with anything that looked good (and that was like everything). I’m sure my garden could have been better if I had stuck to a plan and researched everything. I did a little research and the rest was a huge experiment. I learned from it but next year I’ll be doing it better, this time with companion planting.
10 | Buying Plants in Foreign Languages is Hard
I’m fairly decent at identifying plants, but knowing which ones are full sun, shade or partial? Not so much. This leads to some plants living in the wrong areas, and to some getting fried by the sun. As I mentioned, even full sun plants struggled in the exceptionally hot summer we had. Neighbors made sunshades for some of their plants, and that’s something I may end up doing next year as well. Especially if we have another hot summer.
My first container garden was an adventure. I learned a lot and had a great time tending to my plants. Many of my plants are still going strong and I hope that my perennials will return next spring, and I will be able to make my next garden even better. If you are thinking of starting a container garden, I hope you do give it a try and go for it! It’s a great experience no matter the outcome.