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Fri, Oct. 18

Column: Container gardens are easy to create with exciting results

Like all garden center owners, I don't get many days off in spring. However, this past Thursday after teaching a morning gardening class, my day-timer showed nothing scheduled for the afternoon. So, I took off for the rest of the day and played in the yard! I started with all our container gardens, sprucing them up with new flowering colors. Gardening in containers is easy, but I follow some techniques that guarantee great looking results.

If you want container gardens with low maintenance demands, larger truly is better. The greater the volume of potting soil in a container the easier it is to keep watered in summer and to resist freeze damage in winter. Containers that are at least 16 inches in both diameter and depth are the only size I consider. This size easily accommodates medium-size shrubs and any flower, vegetable, or herb. Trees and large shrubs prefer containers about wine barrel size, a minimum of about 20 inches across and as deep.

The correct potting soil is a key element for successful container gardens. A good potting soil will be lighter than the dirt found in the yard so plants can drain and breathe; but it must be heavy enough to retain moisture during summer's heat. Potting soils are meant 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." Originally designed for our grower to maximize herb, vegetable and flowers crops, it has been packaged in a size suitable for home gardeners. It is a good growing medium for smaller crops and has proven greatly successful with trees and shrubs in raised beds and containers. However it is used, I have found it to be the best performer in our arid summer climate.

Watering containers that are not self-watering present challenges of almost crippling demands on our gardening time. '"Aqua Boost Crystals" are a new polymer soil additive that holds 200 times its weight in water. By adding as little as two teaspoons of these water-boosting little gems to a container's soil, a plant's water needs are 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 at the bottom of planting holes when putting in new trees and shrubs.

I will have Aqua Boost Crystal samples at next week's garden class, "Container Gardening - Dull to Beautiful." Join me next Saturday morning at 9:30 in the greenhouse for this entertaining, informative hour-long class.

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Buy plants online! So many plants purchased online are wimpy, weak, whips of the plants they were billed as over the Internet, but the times they are a-changing. New hybrid business models have emerged between Internet growers and their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Monrovia, arguably the best plant growers in the country, now allows any gardener to purchase from its farms directly through shop.monrovia.com. You can buy any of the plants grown on Monrovia's 2,200 acres and your order is added to a semi-truck that already is destined to a garden center near you.

Even the largest tree is shipped free of charge. Retail gardeners incur no shipping expenses for fully-grown specimen plants in containers as large as 20-gallon nursery containers; we're talking huge plants! This new hybrid Internet purchasing formula dramatically increases the variety of choices when shopping for perennials, shrubs, vines and trees. It also allows anyone in the country to have access to Monrovia's extensive selection of high quality plants.

This is the biggest Internet launch for buying garden plants in North America, and it makes a non-issue of shipping charges. The only "inconvenience" is that buyers must be willing to pick up plants from local garden centers. Through shop.monrovia.com gardeners can experience a brilliant new way to access some of the best plant material in the country.

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Plant of the Week is the 'Magical Gold Forsythia'. Blooming throughout the region with extra large, solar yellow flowers that completely shroud the bare stems, it becomes the stunning focal point of any landscape. With the rich green foliage that emerges later in spring, it blends well with other plants. This is the most popular month for planting forsythias.

Because of its dramatic early color, this forsythia deserves a well-chosen place in the garden. This smaller, chest-high variety is particularly well suited for the limited spaces of front yard foundation planting where it can achieve its natural character without needing to be sheared. It's perfect at the back of the shrub border for spring brilliance when all other plants are still leafless. Against white picket fences where its color shows through even the tightest slats, it is irresistibly charming. For those of you near the forest, it's good to know that deer dislike the taste of this blond bloomer!

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

Throughout the week, Ken Lain - the Mountain Gardener - can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through www.wattersgardencenter.com.

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