Planter pot gardening, Pacific Northwest

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by janetdoyle, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    I have been tasked with designing two or three larger [but not huge] planter pots for offspring's shady balcony in Victoria... I have purchased a 1.5-foot young spritely Aucuba with lots of gold on the leaves [plus some sprouts coming up at the base at the sides], and a dwarf variegated-leaf Pieris called 'Little Heath'. Also a tall fine-leaved bronzy-orange-green ornamental grass. I want to plant in with these some small dwarf evergreen but non-conifer variegated shrubs like a small Euonymous or Japanese Holly, or other suggestions, plus several striking shade-friendly perennials for mid-summer show. I have reserved a medium-small, i.e. maybe 10"-12" round 'Green Velvet' boxwood as another option, I am coddling it in case I wish to use it. Plus some Impatiens and Begonia will be added in due course. The balcony will be in total shade except possibly for some very very late afternoon rays in mid-summer. I am also thinking azalea, but that is over with post-June... except for those Encore azaleas which have just appeared on the scene here, but I believe they require some sun. If there is a keen balcony gardener with shade exerience out there, please make a few suggestions...
     
  2. Mister Green

    Mister Green Active Member

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    I have a similar open shade patio environment. The only sun it gets is a couple of hours in the summer. The Japanese maple, azalea, and spurge do fine. So do the hosta, astilbe, and fern. They are all in large planters. The maple is maybe too large for a balcony though.
     
  3. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    Thank you, I should have remembered Astilbe and Hosta, and of course there are some beautiful ferns, the latter would complement the Aucuba as well. Euphorbia or Spurge would add structural interest to a pot. What is your experience with Astilbe in shade with even less than a couple of hours of sun? I have two growing in a constantly shady area near my place and they do "so-so", unless I am not fertilizing them enough... I've seen them flourish with a bit more sun elsewhere... I don't think this balcony area will get any at all except maybe from a nearly- setting sun... I will have to see actually at the time of mid-summer to know for sure. It's possible the brightness level will increase if light and warmth will be reflected off light-coloured buildings across the street... I don't think there's space for even a dwarf Japanese maple owing to the addition of a table and a couple of chairs and a small barbecue.
     
  4. Pieter

    Pieter Active Member 10 Years

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    Janet, you've gotta remember that all those you mention are shade tolerant, they all do better of course with moderate sun and/or a good open shade. A potted maple may just provide enough extra shade when you really don't want it and make those in it's shade languish.

    Keep in mind that planting medium requirements for containerized perennial gardens are heavily focused on making sure there is proper drainage and aeration. The typical off-the-shelf garden center planting mix is fine for use with annuals, but anything with perennials requires the use of a mix that relies on very little peat and compost since those collapse easily and quickly lead to poor growth in subsequent years, as well as root and crown rot. Containerized perennials -this includes trees- should be re-potted in fresh medium every 2-3 years to ensure growth anywhere near the potential of the plants.

    For a better insight to the requirements of long term containerized gardening, look at this forum on GardenWeb, you'll find it a treasure trove of information and you will find it dispels a lot of common held beliefs.
     
  5. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    Thank you for the soils information -- very helpful. The second poster on soils in containers, quite lengthy, which is on that forum at that site referenced immediately above is especially enlightening, and writes that he uses no compost and a coarse mixture including finer bark in planter pots holding perennials, whether shrubs or trees or bedding plants [not annuals], with nutrients provided by fertilizers... this should be of interest to us all, perhaps our experienced gardeners have been doing this...
     
  6. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    Thanks for the link to container soil mix for trees and perennials, Pieter. It was very instructive. Now, where to find Turface, crushed granite and pine or fir bark fines in BC. The bagged decorative landscape mulch sounds hopeful. I wonder if spruce or cedar bark could be substituted? Do they say what kind of bark on the bag?

    About some ideas for your shady container garden. One plant that thrives in shade and looks wonderful long after hostas have turned yellow and died back in the fall is Brunnera 'Jack Frost' with pretty large silver and green leaves. The golden leaved Hakonechloa grass likes the shade as well. Periwinkle has glossy trailing leaves and is very hardy. So many possibilities.
    Another pretty shade lover are the cyclamen, speaking of beautifully patterned leaves, and flowers as well. Then there is the much coveted feathery maidenhair fern you see as an indoor plant. I have seen these growing lushly outside in Charleston, SC. They might be hardy enough in Vancouver through the winter but worth it if only for the summer. How about the winter box, Sarcococca humilis, hookeriana, etc. with intoxicating scent in February. Another one that's not hardy for me. (Grumble)

    You could have a moss garden in a wide shallow bowl with rocks and perhaps a miniature water feature. Those table ferns and patterned leaved house plants you see at Cdn Tire, etc with the different ivies would make a soothing green corner as long as you could mist them or keep them from getting too dry. I guess it depends upon how much time and effort you are willing to put into the watering. The boston fern can take quite low temperatures and can be hung or put on a stand to add height.
     
  7. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    Some great plant ideas here...

    I think one could compromise on the soil composition -- I used fine pea gravel today in preparing a garden bed for some new summer heather I was planting, in order to create some drainage and break up the clay... plus some sand [but not too much] plus some in this case, as it was open garden, rough compost with visible pieces of bark in it... we have tons of pine needles down on our treed berm around the street side of the strata property, and that could be mixed in... and I used some stringy sphagnum moss I shredded myself by hand, although apparently it does not do the drainage thing all that well... I threw the several lumps of clay which got dug up when I was preparing a shallow trench for several heathers into my garden-trash bin for taking to the garden waste dump...
     
  8. Pieter

    Pieter Active Member 10 Years

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    You're right, Janet. Sphagnum moss holds water very well, particularly when still alive. I would only use it as a soil additive if I were 100% sure it was dead, dead, dead. And I'd make sure it was completely shredded apart...

    You can find Turface through a Delta distributor: Evergro/Grower Central and I would go looking for crushed granite at a local gravel supplier. Contact Evergro and see who near you they do business with, and while those folks will not have it in stock they should be able to tack onto their next order with them. The thing to keep in mind with the bark is that you need FINES, not garden mulch, as that tends to have too large a particle size. You want bark that is no larger than half an inch, the tree source is far less critical then the size. They use pine bark fines simply because it the most readily available to them.
     
  9. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    I didn't mean to take the discussion off pots and into the topic of garden soil (above). I can see that this new-to-many-of-us outside container-soil system will take some getting used to, and perhaps lead some of us to an experiment with it first. What do you think of the bagged outside planter-pot soil, readily available everywhere? Does it have too much fine compost in it, too much "soil"? Would it contain the Turface or a similar product? I noticed that on a Google search that a Schultz product called a "soil conditioner" popped up or was mentioned on GardenWeb, not sure which, and I have seen a lot of Schultz products around at hardware stores. It's probably difficult to get the bark fines other than a product called "fine" bark mulch, pre-bagged, and it may be ok don't you think? Some perennials and shrubs I've purchased have been really already potted in something like the mixture we are talking about, and I have noted with surprise how coarse a mixture it was and now I know why.
     
  10. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    Addition to my post above -- I noticed bags of pumice for sale at a nursery, it looks about the size one would use in planter pots for small shrubs, trees and perennials... is that what it is for? Is it equivalent to Turface in function? Is it too alkaline by any chance for acid-loving plants?
     
  11. Pieter

    Pieter Active Member 10 Years

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    Janet, the issue of planting medium and pots are very closely related. If you look closely at the physical requirements that insure the needed combination of drainage, aeration and water retention you will see that the recommended constituent components are irregular in shape to help in keeping the structure open with sufficient porosity to hang on to water. Products like Turface and Perlite are very porous with lots of 'pockets' and generally close to pH neutral, but you'll find all mixes will have added forms of lime to keep the mix sweet and make sure there's a source of calcium. Something like pumace would be a suitable part of a potting mix. And you're right, the resulting mix will be fairly coarse, that's how you get the needed drainage and a low PWT. You'll find with these coarser mixes the need for watering increases and some form of timed drip system may be ideal on a balcony.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2010
  12. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    Thank you for the link to track down a dealer for Turface. From what I can see it is an angular ceramic absorbent clay product. I guess this means it never breaks down but absorbs and releases moisture? On the otherhand it seems to be a product sports fields use to rapidly absorb puddles so perhaps I have not quite got the exact picture of what this stuff looks like. I can't see it not building up on the turf. The term ceramic is throwing me a little.

    I have a bag of small hard clay balls that are supposed to the bee's knees for potted plants. I got them from Lee Valley, I think they might have been from Germany, a couple of years ago but have not had a chance to try them out. I think they absorb water. Maybe for hydroponics as well as regular potted plants. There were no instructions with the packet that I can remember. I will have to hunt down the old catalogue. It's been a hectic two years.

    I would like to try out the tree/perennial pot mixture suggested to give my little full moon maple the best chance. It has been in a pot for four years with top dressing. It seems ok but there is always room for improvement.
     
  13. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    The other thing I would be watching out for is that your containers don't get too hot or you will have cooked roots. A good method is to place containers with in a larger container and insulate between with paper or similar and keep that damp too. It may not be a big problem where you are but it is here with patio , walled garden plantings.

    Liz
     
  14. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    I now have plenty of ideas and information to work with. Now find the time to get with it! There is no need to worry about planter pots becoming overly-heated as the balcony is in the shade, and Victoria BC has moderate temperatures in the summer. More need to worry about these perennial pots being frozen in a cold spell in winter. I am interested in the best materials and types of planter pots, though -- and the possibility of double-potting for winter insulation. I am interested in the shape, height, and colour of pots -- will depend on cost, of course, as well. I wanted to find a flared-top shape, for more room for plants and annual stick-ins along with the perennials, but my offspring tells me space is at a premium so go for the bullet-shaped pot... straight-up or more inward-curved shape at the top... I wonder if a really bright colour would detract from the overall end result or enhance it -- the building's siding on the outside is a combination of light green with cream trim... the balconies have cream metal rims and glass-panel sides. I have been looking at ochre-yellow, orange-brown pots -- I was told not green, don't know why... they want something bright, warm-toned and eye-catching on the balcony... and no grecian urns [sigh].

    I do have a question about fibreglass pots -- I have been looking at some, and almost all show some peeling of the paint on the outer surface, such as the upper rim. That's a shame, as these things are expensive. Can anyone tell me if they have experience with fibreglass and how it wears?
     
  15. Debby

    Debby Active Member 10 Years

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    An inward shaped pot can be troublesome if the time comes to repot the plant/s...
     
  16. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    I have had a standard wisteria in a 2 inch thick expanded foam pot for at least 6 years (still waiting for the wisteria to bloom). The outside has a raised design like a terra cotta pot, in fact, it fools many people into thinking it is a terra cotta pot with a whitish effloresence. It wasn't cheap but neither was it very expensive, not like the fibreglass ones I gasped at. The wisteria spends the winter in the unheated potting shed and leafs out every spring. The bonus is it is not too heavy to take in and out which is an advantage on a balcony as well. I can't remember where I got it, except it was somewhere on the coast, probably at Rona or Home Depot or Walmart or Cdn Tire.
     
  17. downisland2

    downisland2 Member

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    I've had great experience with the Encore Azaleas in container gardening. They make great base plants with morning sun. They bloom spring & fall.
     
  18. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    Thank you so much with the info re the Encore Azaleas -- I have been wondering about them. Must try them in my own garden too. Have the feeling they won't really do anything in this balcony project, though, as it seems to me it's in total but rather bright shade all of the time! Quite a challenge. One of the Encore Azalea producer write-ups on the web mentions one or two of them which are more shade-tolerant, so I'll try to use those. Sort of depressing, as I am afraid everything will just fail plant-wise other than let's see, palest variegated ivy! And maybe Aucuba, which I have purchased and is ready to be potted. And impatiens and begonias. It remains to be seen if the surrounding buildings reflect light, that will help brighten the shade.
     
  19. Debby

    Debby Active Member 10 Years

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    In high summer, the north side of a building gets early morning and late afternoon sun. The best days are the overcast days, when diffuse light rather than solid shade is on offer.
     
  20. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member 10 Years

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    Good, I hope so, I'm planning on that, and planting accordingly. It will be a while before I have any photos, but I will share.
     

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