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Get out in the garden

It takes work to make a garden; they don’t just grow themselves. Photo: faroutflora / flickr

Will March come barreling in like a lion and appropriately leave like a lamb? Our rainy season appeared to be off to a great start at the end of last year, but then January rolled around, and the rains didn’t stick around. Let’s hope a March miracle will allow us to play catch-up with some rain, so we don’t face extended drought conditions. Regardless, the time change on March 8 gives us extra daylight to work in the garden as we prepare for spring and summer.

Window and container gardens: If you don’t have room for a big backyard garden, you can still enjoy the pleasures of growing plants. Pots that are perfect for a windowsill garden and ideal for herbs and flowers are readily available at your local garden center or hardware store. If you have a deck or small patio, a wine barrel planter will give you plenty of space to even grow vegetables. (See below for additional information.)

Start seeds indoors: Now is the perfect time to sow seeds indoors to transfer outside later. Use a cardboard egg carton with a small amount of soil. Once the seedlings sprout, just cut apart the cups and plant —cup and all.

Bare-root plants: Now is the time to plant bare-root plants, including rhododendrons and citrus trees.

Vegetables: Hardy seeds such as radishes, potatoes, spinach, and turnips can be planted outdoors.

Annuals and perennials: Plant summer blooming annuals from seed or stock, along with summer bulbs such as gladiolas, calla lilies, dahlias, and begonias. Plant new perennials as they become available.

Fuchsias and geraniums: Fuchsias and geraniums add color to any garden. Geraniums are ideal in window boxes, and a climbing fuchsia plant can turn any drab wall into a stunning display of color.

Divide and conquer: Day lilies, hostas, daisies, chrysanthemums, and lupines can be divided now.

Pruning: Azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, and other early bloomers can be pruned after they finish blooming.

Irrigation: If we’re lucky, March will bring some rain. But it is also a good time to think about upgrading your garden irrigation system to water wisely during dry months. Consider a drip system, soaker hoses, or an efficient sprinkler setup to water effectively.

CONTAINER GARDENING

Container gardening is particularly suited to urban environments — you can be certain the soil is well drained, and you can plant a container garden just about anywhere. Many herbs varieties and vegetables thrive in containers. Think about where a pot will be located, and then find plants that will like that location.

Most plants exhibit one of three forms: upright, broad, or trailing. Be sure to stand back and consider height, shape, and growth habits. You can make a strong statement by using one bold plant such as an upright clump of bamboo or the perfect symmetry of a single agave. Another way is to combine all three forms in one pot. For instance, plant tall, spikey New Zealand flax with a couple of broad heliotropes, and some trailing ivy geranium. (Make sure you choose plants that have compatible soil interests, whether well-drained or continuously moist.)

Foliage is just as important as color in creating a successful container planting. As a general rule, most of the foliage in a pot should be harmonious, but remember that contrast grabs the eye. When considering color, think bold contrasting hues such as purple with yellow, or create a harmonious combination of pinks and lavenders. Or skip the color altogether and combine greens with a spot of white.

INNOVATIVE PLANTERS

Planters on wheels allow you to follow shifting sunlight or to wheel plants to a water spigot. Rolling casters easily attach to a wine barrel for mobility.

If you don’t have horizontal space for containers, go vertical. Place containers of climbing plants (such as cucumbers and climbing beans) or plants that can be tied up (vine-type tomatoes) next to a gutter, railing, or fence — or string up cord or net for them to climb on. Hanging baskets and window boxes also take advantage of otherwise unused spaces. (Cherry tomatoes look great in a hanging basket!)

Short sections of large ceramic, metal, or plastic drainage pipe or culvert make great pedestals for container plants. Place the pipe section on end and partially fill with gravel or similar material. Select a plant pot that will set into the top of the pipe and rest on top of the gravel. Try grouping different heights of pipe in one area. The effect can be stunning.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].

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