Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Agri Leader

Container gardening at its sweatiest


Published:

You can learn from my summer container gardening mistakes.

I know the words "gardening" and "summer" probably don't seem to go together well here in Florida, because you might fear that you'll melt away outside.

Yet I learned recently that there are gardening possibilities for you even this time of year. For those of you like me who live in a condo or other space where a large garden isn't an option, container gardening is a way you can still enjoy homegrown produce and herbs year round.

First, here's why you'll want to listen to the experts I quote in my article and not me. Although I have had summertime success with sweet basil both here in Florida and up north, I otherwise lack the right expertise.

About a month ago, I marched over to Walmart (OK, I really hopped in my car like we all do) to buy a vegetable seedling, to save myself some of the lag time when you start with seeds. I wanted to pick a veggie that my son and I would both enjoy and wouldn't take forever to grow. I picked zucchini over hot peppers and tomatoes. I planted the seedling and happily watched my plant daily. Although it has sprouted two small flowers, they have since disappeared, and about half of the formerly green plant has yellowed.

Now, here's where I can share what I did wrong. Read on for advice from some local gardening gurus to help your container gardening efforts this time of year.

1. Pick the right items. I thought zucchini would be great to grow this time of year because, after all, Walmart had it in stock, right? Turns out, larger markets like Walmart may get product distribution regionally, and what grows well in other Southeastern states right now may not grow nicely in Florida, said Nicole Pinson, Hillsborough County Extension's urban horticulture agent and master gardening coordinator.

If you're hankering to grow something you can eat this time of year, stick with "tried-and-true Southern vegetables," as Pinson described them. This would include okra, squash, pole beans, and eggplant.

Extension offices frequently get asked about tomato growth here in the summer - it's generally not recommended, although cherry and grape tomatoes can withstand the heat a little better than other varieties, said Lisa Hickey, Manatee County Extension's urban horticulturist and water conservation extension agent.

Herbs are another summertime option. Still, that doesn't mean choosing just any herb. Mints, Thai basil, lemongrass, and ginger can withstand summer's heat, both Hickey and Pinson told me. Sage - not so much.

2. Pick the right container. A darker clay pot will cause extra stress on your plant because the temperature in the container gets so hot. It doesn't mean you shouldn't use a darker clay pot in the summer, but you do need to water the plant more often, Hickey said. One plant that will do well in a darker clay pot is cactus, which can withstand dryness better.

Plastic containers are great for annuals and perennials, Hickey said. Make sure the container has a water drainage hole.

Although it sounds a little more high tech, you may want to consider a microirrigation system for your container garden, Pinson said. They're not too expensive, and the extension office sometimes offer courses on how to use them (as well as courses on a variety of other gardening topics).

3. Pick the right soil. "If you pick up the bag of soil and it feels like 50 pounds of bricks, that's probably not going to be the right soil," Pinson said. You want a soil that's fluffy, weed-free, and labeled on the bag as sterile. You can likely find an affordable soil, although generic bags sold for $2 may not have enough of the nutrients your planting will need, she cautioned.

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