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Ann Wright: Gardeners adapt to a changing environment

Ann Wright
Columnist

In general, being flexible and willing to adapt to changing situations fits gardeners pretty well. Part of the fun, and the challenge of gardening is knowing when and how to adapt to changing conditions. For some there is always an area of the landscape in need of work — whether it’s converting a lawn to native grass meadow, or planning for year-round color, there are many ways to adapt our outdoor environments.

As part of the recent changes in how we do things, the Master Gardeners of Nevada County are shifting gears and will begin to offer online workshops starting today! “Garden Makeover: From Lawn to Landscape” will be presented live via the online Zoom app today from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (Zoom allows presenters to hold online meetings seminars and classes. A computer, tablet or smart phone with internet access is required to access the site.) The public is invited to attend the workshop by signing onto the Zoom program; details are on our website at http://ncmg.ucanr.org/.

The focus of the workshop will be how to change water-guzzling lawns or weed-filled areas into lovely environmentally friendly landscapes. Planning and design techniques will be presented as well as ideas for preparation of the area through installation of the plants. Tune in to find out how to adapt to a changing environment. If you are not able to attend, the recorded presentation will be offered on our website at a later date.

If garden space is a limitation in a growing environment, container gardening may offer another option for gardeners. Some of the benefits to gardening in a container include reducing intrusion by wildlife — containers are generally easier to protect from invading pests. Weed management is easier to accomplish in a container, and creativity can abound in the designing of the container. Color choice, texture and size of plants can be selected to create lovely mixed gardens. Success depends on a few factors: choice of plants and containers, and attention to the soil, light, water and nutrient needs of plants.

First consider the container. Containers can be decorative ceramic, inexpensive plastic pots or re-purposed items such as old shoes, or kitchen tools such as colanders, kettles or pans. There are pros and cons with each. For example, glazed clay or ceramic pots are porous requiring careful monitoring of water needs. These types of containers are heavy and may crack if outdoors in our freezing temperatures in the winter.

Plastic pots are lightweight, durable and cheaper. They decrease water needed for plants, but darker plastic pots may get pretty hot out on the deck in the afternoon.

Once the container is selected, soil must be added. Successful container gardens use a potting soil mix that provides adequate drainage and support for root development and plant growth. It is advised not to use soil from the garden or from the ground — it is too heavy for container planting, and plants will not do as well. Several soil mixes are commercially available.

Succulents are common container plants, and they need excellent drainage requiring a different soil mix. Sand, perlite, pumice and potting soil support their shallow roots and allow drainage. Use 1-2 parts potting soil to a combination of pumice and perlite. For succulents, layer gravel at the bottom with perlite/ pumice mixture for the next layer. Top with soil mix for cactus and succulents on top. After planting, add attractive rocks or bark chips to anchor the roots.

Drainage is vital to the health of container plants. If the container has holes in the bottom, supporting the pot with rocks or boards keeps staining of concrete or wood to a minimum and allows better drainage. Another option is to drill holes on the sides of the pots ½-1 inches from the bottom. This works well for plastic pots.

Now, the fun part: choosing plants. When making a trip to the nursery to purchase plants, have a plan for your container — theme, type of plants, color combinations, etc. Read the plant label carefully. And for creative options, consider the growth habits of the individual plants. Some are “thrillers” which include tall plants such as grasses, gaura, foxglove and salvias. “Spillers” are plants that drape over the edge of the container, adding a touch of drama to the design. Calibrachoa, nasturtiums, dichondra, creeping thyme and mint have draping growth habits. “Fillers” are bushier and can fill in areas beneath the taller plants. Coleus, lantana, petunias, and begonias are in this category.

To learn more about container gardening, plan to attend an online (Zoom) workshop which will be announced soon! Other future online workshops will be published as they are scheduled. Watch our website for information. For now, there are still a number of ways to access Master Gardeners for questions – via the Got Questions link on the home page on our website as well as the live Saturday radio shows, broadcast from 10 a.m. to noon on KNCO am830. Nevada County Master Gardeners are also found on Facebook, Instagram and Next Door.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.


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