In the Garden: Is your patio up for pots?

Dear Anne,

I am in a seniors residence with a very large patio. There is talk of doing container gardening here. But no one really knows how to create this.

Olga Sorenson, Vancouver

If your patio is above ground, you’ll need to ask your manager or strata council if the structure will stand the significant weight of soil.

It’s best to begin with just a few containers because the first year will be all learning. Even in containers there’s thinning, weeding, pest patrol, watering, harvesting and crop rotation.

One important bit of learning is co-operation. Sometimes a few people do all the work while the others visit and cheer.

I’d suggest half-barrel size containers because soil dries out less in these. Also in winter, the roots of plantings in the middle are less susceptible to freezing.

It’s essential all your tubs have drainage holes in the bottom. A piece of landscape fabric or several layers of plastic mesh will stop soil from migrating out of the drainage holes.

Some patios have drains for excess water, but balcony patios may need protection under pots so water is contained.

It’s best to learn not to over-water and to never let soil dry right out unless you’re growing dry-land plants. Dry soil has a sneaky trick of shrinking away from the sides leaving a narrow fissure all the way round the inside of the pot.

This allows water to cascade down and out of the bottom. Meanwhile, the dry soil in the centre stays dry. If this happens, dig very small holes in the soil surface where water can pool. Fill them frequently until the soil is moist throughout.

For a container garden all you need is a small shovel, a trowel, a small garden fork or rake. Stakes, tomato cages or a small trellis are optional depending what you plant.

Once the containers are in place, you can begin loading them with topsoil from garden centres. Check whether fertilizer is already added. Leafy vegetables like high-nitrogen fertilizer.

When you go to get the containers and soil, it’s best to go when the nursery isn’t busy and make a point of chatting to one of the assistants. If you talk to them about gardening in containers, they’re very likely to tell you things you’d have never thought to ask.

Dear Anne,

I learned from my parents “Never pick rhubarb in a month with an ‘R’ in it.” This is quite different than your rule about picking until early June. Does it develop too much oxalic acid after that?

Pat Pepperman, e-mail

The rule about not picking rhubarb after early June is one I learned as a child in England. I was told it tastes better in early spring and gets stringy and dry later.

But here I was told rhubarb develops higher levels of oxalic acid in summer. Our summers are hotter. That would make a difference to rhubarb.

A lot of gardening practice can be adjusted by what a person does culturally. I’m sure if you water rhubarb diligently while picking it, the moisture level in the stalks will be higher and oxalic acid lower.

Frankly, rhubarb roots are so huge and strong, it may be irrelevant exactly what one does when.

I’d say keep right on doing what suits you best. Just like adjusting cooking recipes.

Thanks for sharing – that’s one of the joys of this work.

 

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