Container and Raised Bed Gardening
This spring and summer, get creative with your containers and beds
Spring brings lots of questions for gardeners itching to plant containers and raised beds. What color combinations of flowers will you use? What mixture of flowers and foliage? But Anita Stevens of Bedford Fields Garden Center in Bedford challenges gardeners to get even more creative. “What could you reuse as a planter? What about mixing edible herbs with flowers? Get creative with your planting and have fun with it,” she says.
Containers and raised beds make it easy to care for and cultivate your plants. They also keep predators away. But beyond these practical advantages, containers are just fun. “I try to mix together different types of vegetation so that the containers look pretty and are useful,” Stevens says. “I’ll throw together some parsley and petunias, or I’ll make a container with rainbow chard for the foliage and along with some flowers. Herbs and vegetables make stunning container plants and you can eat them!”
Who says you have to put your herbs in a pot and your veggies in a wooden frame? Gardeners are getting more and more ideas for repurposing objects into containers. “Raised beds out of a galvanized watering trough works just fine and looks great,” says Stevens. “A quick search on the Internet will give you lots of ideas for creative containers.” You can find photos of baskets, old mailboxes, rubber boots — even books being used as containers for plants and flowers online. Almost anything will work if you are willing to let it get dirty. A 10" x 10" container is “plenty big enough to start,” advises Stevens. “And from there, just think uniquely. Use your imagination.”
Gardeners can also experiment with new color trends and breeds of flowers. “This year, go with bold colors,” says Linda Zukas of Churchill’s Gardens in Exeter. “The new Cherry Supertunia, which is a deep cherry red, would look great mixed with orange lantana, a tall vertical grass, good texture from some coleus plants and something tropical like hibiscus.” A new chrysanthemum called “Pleasure Yellow” has also just been introduced by the Dutch company Van Wordragen Flowers and is an amazing mixture of yellow, green and red.
“The biggest trend for 2015 that I see is that people are making careful decisions about what they are planting, and they are finding ways that their containers can have a dual purpose,” Stevens says. “For example, there are wonderful raspberry and blueberry plants that are bred so that they can grow in a container, where they’ll produce fruit during the summer, but then turn into the vibrant shades of fall, providing color to your landscape in autumn.”
If you are planting containers or raised beds this spring, then the most important piece is proper planning. “The first thing we ask when someone is selecting plants is, ‘What are your light conditions?’” says Zukas. “‘Are you setting your containers in sun? Shade? When does the sun hit?’ It’s so important, and for people who are at work all day, they might not know.” After that, you need to think about how big your plants will get and plan accordingly. Stevens agrees. “Plan ahead — make sure you think through the season. If you are raising veggies and herbs, they need at least six hours of sunshine. And make sure you plan for how big they are going to get.”
The most common mistake people make when they are planting containers is overcrowding. Stevens emphasizes that it is very important to follow the directions on your seeds or plants. When a container is too full, the plant gets stressed, and then disease or bugs are attracted to them. “They actually give off a hormone that attracts bugs like the smell of buttered popcorn. Usually, if a plant has bugs, they were under stress first, and then they were too weak to fight them off.”
If you are making a larger raised bed, then you need to begin from day one with weed control. “My favorite weed control is layers of newspaper,” says Stevens. Layer your beds first with soil, the newspaper with slices, and plant the plants in those slices, then another layer of soil mixed with compost or mulch.” Stevens doesn’t like the plastic sheets for weed control since they don’t let the plants get enough water. “Really I’m an old-fashioned gardener. Keep it simple and fun.”