Self-watering gardens: Reduce maintenance, increase success this spring
Raised beds and containers expand our planting options. They allow us to grow edible and ornamental plants even where there is no plantable space to garden.
Use them to make planting, tending and harvesting convenient by bringing the garden to your back door. And fill them with pollinator-friendly plants to enjoy the colorful hummingbirds and butterflies that visit and flit past the window, deck and balcony.
Their need for frequent watering may have discouraged you from growing in raised beds and containers. The limited soil mass and increased exposure to wind, heat and sunlight make fast-draining potting mixes dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens.
Self-watering raised gardens are now available, making these gardens a realistic option; even for the busiest gardener. Consider one with a large built-in water reservoir, like Gardener’s Corrugated Metal Self-Watering Raised Bed, that extends time between watering.
Create mixed plantings of edibles and flowers for beautiful combinations in raised beds. Include some edible flowers like nasturtiums, pansies and calendulas that you, the hummingbirds and butterflies will enjoy. Lettuce, parsley, kale, Swiss chard and red cabbage combine nicely with most flowers and chives provide an edible vertical accent. Select compact vegetable varieties like Patio Choice yellow cherry tomato, Patio Pride peas, Mascotte bush beans and Astia zucchini suited to container and raised bed culture. And if concerned about maintaining the integrity of the patio or deck surface consider a Patio Raised Bed with Base (gardeners.com) that protects the underlying surface.
Elevated gardens raise your plantings to a comfortable height. No bending or kneeling needed to plant, weed and harvest. These are basically containers on legs. Many have wheels so you can move them out of the way or into the sunlight as needed.
Look for those with built-in trellises and supports when growing vines like cucumbers, pole beans and Malabar spinach and tall plants like tomatoes, dinner plate dahlias and cosmos. But like containers, they dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens and need frequent irrigation.
Look for easy care, self-watering containers like the Self-Watering Standing Garden with large reservoirs to maximize the time between watering. Look for those with fill tubes and water-level indicators to help you determine when to water. These features help keep your garden looking and producing its best. You’ll have plenty of fresh greens for salads, herbs for seasoning drinks and meals, and flowers to dress up your table.
Don’t fret if you already have a raised bed or elevated garden that lacks these easy-care features. DIY irrigation kits are available and easy to design for these types of gardens. Select systems that allow you to customize and fit the irrigation layout to your gardening needs.
Further reduce maintenance by incorporating a slow release fertilizer at planting. These types of fertilizers release small amounts of nutrients over a longer period of time. No weekly mixing and applications needed. Just give them a mid-season boost if needed and according to the fertilizer label.
Reducing ongoing maintenance of raised beds and container gardens makes it practical to expand your gardening space. Just be sure to fill them with a quality potting mix and plants suited to the growing conditions and in no time, you’ll be enjoying the flavor and beauty these gardens provide.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Gardeners Supply for her expertise to write this article. Her website is http://www.MelindaMyers.com.
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