by Susan Harris
Our very own gardening guru Gene Sumi hit the road recently, to talk to the Chevy Chase (DC) Garden Club about container gardening.

Gene's Tips

  • Never, ever use garden soil or "topsoil" in your pots.   Look for the words "potting soil" or "potting mix" on bags of product - and don't be shocked that what they contain isn't soil at all but a "soil-less mix" of peatmoss, bark, and perlite or vermiculite.  Think of it as a growing medium.
  • For organic "purists" he recommends Espoma's Organic Potting Mix, but be warned that it doesn't contain a wetting agent (needed to counteract the resistance of peat to absorb water).
  • Never plant anything in a dry medium; wet it first.
  • There's no need to throw out old potting medium every year.  He adds some new medium but reuses most of it year after year.   Remember, the nutrients for the plants are coming from you, the fertilizer, not from the "soil" or growing medium.
  • Regular fertilization is required for all container plantings, and be sure to avoid the ones that leave salt residue - it sucks moisture out of the plants' roots.
  • Gene says MiracleGro is good for avoiding salts - as long as you follow instructions.  (Seems that using too high a concentration of MiracleGro is a common error we gardeners make.)  But DO avoid MiracleGro's "Shake and Feed", though, because it does produce salt built-up and isn't intended for containers.
  • Osmocote, also a chemical fertilizer, is in time-released form and lasts 4 months.  It's also a good choice for avoiding salt burn of plant roots.
  • Organic container gardeners are choosing fish-based fertilizers, which have made a "big comeback" recently.  They smell fishy but they're excellent fertilizers, and you can't overfeed with them. (Though hey, why waste money?  Use only the amount recommended on the label.)
  • Turning to plants, Gene has a happy attitude toward annuals.  Sure, they have to be replaced every year but that's a GOOD THING.  It means you can try something new every year.
  • The "big thing" right now is combination planters with a thriller, some filler plants and some spillers, too.   When combining plants, choose ones that have the same light and water requirements as each other, so they'll combine well in the same pot.  And when planting, do the largest one first.
  • THE favorite color right now is chartreuse or light green.

Did you know?
Those gorgeous container plantings you see at Oriole Park, in downtown Annapolis and in the National Harbor atrium - they're all by Homestead!


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