Container Gardening

Redwood wine barrel from the Olivia White Hospice Garden. Contains sweet alyssum, callibrochia, purple sage, silver brocade, lobelia, & pennisetum.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Beginning Post

This is the first post for the new "Container Gardening" blog. It contains handouts used in my annual classes. Copying can be done by clicking on the links on the right side entries. Frequently used catalogs and books can also be found in the right side columns. Please send any questions you have to Loni Shapiro -

Sensory Pots from the Olivia White Gardens

At the Olivia White Hospice Home one of our first projects was to add some large sensory pots along the sidewalk for residents in wheelchairs to interact with. We have a Touch, Aroma, Color, and  Taste pot (see photos below).
Color Pot
Aroma Pot
Touch Pot
Taste Pot
Most of the plants in these pots are perennials and they return each spring. Some annuals are added for a bit more color and to fill the pots as needed. Large signs are placed in the pots to tittle the theme of the pot and encourage interaction.. Small signs are added to detail the list of plants. Both are laminated for weather and attached to stakes. The pots are 24 inches by 24 inches which is a good height for most wheelchairs. We have used plastic due to our cold winters, and dry springs in Flagstaff. They last about 5 years and then do begin to become brittle and crack. The bottom half is filled with rock for stability and to avoid wasting soil. They are placed on 3 bricks placed in a triangle to allow drainage. Contact for a list of plants.

Raised Beds at Olivia White Gardens

Containers can be raised beds. At Olivia White Hospice Home we added a variety of raised beds for residents with physical limitations who want to help in the garden. We have a standing herb/lettuce bed, a sitting vegetable bed, as well as other medium height beds (horse and sheep troughs, tomato self-watering pots, and a ground raised bed). These have all worked well and were reasonably priced except for the sitting raised bed which was built by design with redwood and has a special liner for endurance.

Self-Watering Tomato Pots
These are on the ground, but can be raised on cinder blocks for easier use by those with physical limitations. The two on the left are from Gardener's Supply and the one on the right is from Earth Box (Grow Box is another brand). Plants can be planted early and the cages covered with Remay (frost cloth). This will protect to 28 degrees and probably lower. I have tried walls of water but find them more difficult to manage when the plant grows (getting them off). The tomatoes love these pots (self-watering) where their roots are wet and the tops sunny and dry. Less water is used with watering from the bottom, because the wind does not dry the pot out as quickly.

Variety of Raised Beds
Several of our raised beds before planting - silver horse trough, sitting raised bed, and ground raised beds. These were all planted with vegetables and fruit. The right bottom needed a hoop cover to keep the critters out. The horse trough was planted with strawberries and the deer were nibbling, so a chicken wire cage was placed around the pot and it was covered. It worked effectively saving our strawberries.

Sitting Bed Planted

Small Raised Bed with Native Rock
 It was built up in back to provide even drainage. It was a paw shaped bed created for Zane our long time therapy dog. It was planted with dogwood and a variety of golden flowers. Hardscape includes his water dish, a paw print paver and a trellis. The photo on the bottom is from 2012. The backdrop is a birdhouse trellis with a small pet memorial area in front (engraved pavers).

Watering Pots

Water in the southwest is a precious commodity. Even though I have plenty of room for ground based gardening I live on Mt. Eldon in Flagstaff, at about 7000 feet. The soil is very rocky, volcanic, and does not have much in the way of minerals. It is a neutral soil even with all the pine needles. I don't have grass and much of what I grow that is ground based is native. Shrubs are Wood's rose, cliff rose, apache plume, fern bush, snowberry, and mountain.spray, of which many grow here on the mountain. Other shrubs include pyracantha, euonymus, and shrubby cinquefoil. Perennials include sages, penstemons, agave, yucca, prickly pear cactus, agastaches, cinquefoil, fireweed, gaillardia, columbine, alpine strawberries, Richardson's geranium, and bulbs I add for spring color (squill, snowdrop, daffodils, and species tulips). Most of these don't need much water once established.

I do most of my labor intensive gardening in pots including some vegetables and fruits (peas, lettuce, spinach, herbs,  and tomatoes). Over the years I have learned a great deal about water saving ideas from working at the Arboretum, visiting High Country Gardens, and doing my own research for teaching container gardening.
The pots that work best for me to save water are self-watering plastic containers. Others I use are resin or glazed terra cotta because of our cold winters. On my back deck which is south facing, it gets quite hot. Ideally you should be able to get afternoon shade for most plants at this elevation.  I do have some areas that do - with others I cover them (my umbrellas from Oregon come in handy) or I have them on trolleys and move them to shady areas. The tomatoes seem to do fine with sun most of the day and with self-watering pots only need water every other day in the hot part of the season. Initially when planted about every 3rd or 4th day.

There are many other ways to save water with pots. For my non food crops, especially hanging baskets I use Soil Moist (about a heaping teaspoon for a 1-2 gallon pot) mixed in the soil when planting. I also line hanging baskets with some of my Remay (frost cloth). Other options are peat which is in most packaged soils, or coir which is less endangered. It comes in a small brick and when water is added there is enough for most of my pots. Both do the same thing - hold moisture longer.

Water in the am before the winds start and use a simple drip system for clustered pots. Both save water. There are also water mats you can put in the bottom of pots that hold moisture. If you have a small pot and your going to be gone for a few days you can use a water cone with a soda bottle on top, Some local nurseries also carry a clay cone that you put in the soil and place any bottle on - even a wine bottle if you want things to look more interesting. Warner's also carries something called a Pot Minder. It hangs on the side of a pot (holds significant water for a small pot) with a sensor that sends water to a clay piece placed in your pot that slowly oozes water as needed. Natives from Mexico used ollas. This is a terra cotta container that you bury in a pot and keep full of water which slowly oozes out into the soil. Last of all don't forget to mulch.

Many of the above garden items are available at most garden stores. I purchased some of mine at Home Depot, Warners, and Watters in Prescott. This summer I will take photos so some of these can be viewed in my garden.

Happy Gardening