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Fri, Oct. 18

Container gardens are easy and appealing

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo<br/>Use the correct potting soil to get the best results with your container garden.

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo<br/>Use the correct potting soil to get the best results with your container garden.

Like all garden center owners, I don't get many days off in spring. However, this past Thursday after teaching a morning class over at Yavapai College, my Daytimer showed nothing scheduled for the afternoon. So I took the day off and played in the yard! I started with the container garden, sprucing it up with new flowering colors. Yes, even with snow still on the ground from this week's storm.

Gardening in containers is easy. Following are some techniques that guarantee great-looking container gardens.

Larger is better with container gardens. The greater the volume of potting soil in the container, the easier it is to keep watered in summer and to resist freeze damage in winter. I like to use containers that are at least 14 inches in diameter and in depth. This size easily accommodates medium-size shrubs and any flower, vegetable, or herb. For trees and large shrubs I prefer containers that are about wine barrel size - a minimum of about 20 inches across and deep.

The correct potting soil is a key element for successful container gardens. A good potting soil will be lighter than dirt in the yard so it can drain and breathe, but heavy enough to retain moisture during summer's heat. Potting soils are made to be used right out of the bag without the need of any additional soil. Try to find a potting soil that matches what the plants are growing in when purchased. This makes it easy for plants to transition from the soil they grew up in to their new container soils. Be wary of national-brand soils; it's been my experience that many are more hype than performance. That is why I created my own "Ken's Organic Potting Soil" - it is so good I even use it to grow many of the herbs, vegetables, and flowers at the farm. I find it the best performer in our arid summer climate.

A relatively new self-contained, self-watering, high-producing container on the market is called the "Earth Box." It has had nothing but rave reviews from fellow garden center owners in the Southeast so I brought in a pallet load for Prescott gardeners to try them. I planted two of the boxes with my leafy greens and broccoli this week. I kept them right out in the snow and wind during the week's storms and the plants survived unscathed.

Earth Boxes make sense because their plants are watered from the roots, leaving the foliage dry. A regular container potting soil is used, but an organic fertilizer is placed in the center of the bed to meet the nutritional needs of new seedlings. It is impossible to over-water the boxes because of the design. Consequently, plants remain healthier and produce very heavy crops. Look for one of my finished Earth Box gardens at the garden center. Sort of like a gardener's "show and tell."

Effectively watering containers that are not self-watering always presents a challenge. "Soil Moist" is a new soil additive polymer that holds 200 times its weight in water. By adding as little as two teaspoons of these white crystals to a container's soil, a water bill can be reduced by 50 percent! Each year I usually buy the largest bottle available at the garden center and use it when planting my raised beds, vegetable gardens and container gardens. I also use it under the roots of new trees and shrubs in my landscape.

I will have Soil Moist samples at this week's gardening class, "Container Gardening: Dull to Beautiful." Join me in the greenhouse for this entertaining class at 9:30 Saturday morning.

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Some exciting news for Facebook fans: I got the backing of my vendors to promote a Facebook contest of featuring your container gardens! Sometime around the end of May or the first of June I'll be asking you to submit photos of your best-looking container gardens. Become a Watters Facebook Fan to submit, view and vote on the photos. The one with the most votes will win a sizeable garden prize.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a certified nursery professional and master gardener who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.

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