Plan-Action-Completion, Where I Go Wrong: Container Gardening Edition

I bought a bunch of plants yesterday in spite of the fact that I have a black thumb: when I go into a garden store, the plants all scream cause they know they’re gonna die. But I bought plants, plants that whimpered in the car all the way home. Yesterday.

Today I must plant them in containers. No, not the ground, either the ground around here hates plants or I’m inept. Since weeds are flourishing everywhere I look, it must be me, so I’m going to hedge my bets with containers and container soil and ceramic watering spikes and plant food spikes.

Except it’s noon, and I’m still in bed typing, while the plants are outside, container-less except for the ones they came in, probably dying of thirst and cursing my name. I’m starting to think this problem might apply to more than my garden ineptitude. Like writing. And cleaning. And crochet. I’m hell on wheels on planning, I make GREAT plans, but then it gets to the action part and . . .

So I’m using you all to guilt myself into container gardening. Well, not gardening, that implies I’m going to do more than sock them into containers and make sure the water bottles don’t run out. I know what real gardening is, it’s the stuff some of you talk about on here, those of you who know the names of the plants they have. (I’ve got some kind of aster, and a daisy-looking thing, and something I think is a mini-petunia, and then some other stuff . . . )

Look, I have to at least give them all a fighting chance. I’ll report back on Monday. Maybe add a picture today. Okay, that’s it, I’m going out there a failure and coming back . . . ready for lunch. Pray for the plants.

45 thoughts on “Plan-Action-Completion, Where I Go Wrong: Container Gardening Edition

  1. Must confess: I have failed a lot at container gardening, because I live in a desert and the amount of attention container plants need is more than I was willing to give them. I’m succeeding (in my half-assed way) at gardening here in south L.A. by only buying things that are either indefatigable weeds (wisteria, grapevines) or truly drought-tolerant perennials. Also by planting quite a few things in open-bottomed raised planters so I don’t have to dig. Digging sucks.

    If I had any advice, it would be that. Get some raised bed things (mine are from Sunnydaze), fill them with Miracle Gro dirt, plop the plants in them, mulch, water, done. 🙂

    I’d like to have some asters, but this year’s new plants (if any, and in the fall) will be coneflowers.

  2. Ha! I’m the one who described slowly killing the four live plants the dotter insisted I have as part of her decorating the garage. Dead, every one of them. Now I’m nurturing eight fake plants with all the attention they require – occasional dusting. Very occasional.

    Now, the dotter has probable a hundred house plants. She’s respected on her Facebook group page, trades cuttings and whatnot with those folk, and if that’s not enough, she does outdoor plants, too. She did not inherit those skills from me, unless they skipped a generation.

    Good luck.

  3. Now I’m picturing Crowley’s plants in the recent “Good Omens” show. Can’t remember if the plants were in the book.

    Good compost helped me in the part to make plants happy.

  4. Although not transplanting your plants doesn’t fall into this category, some things are not your fault. I called Walgreens this morning to order some prescription refills and was put on hold. I made it to the point where there was only one person ahead of me in the hold line and then gave up after 30 minutes. I am trying again and this time the recording is not volunteering how long the line ahead of me is. I’m pretty sure that the phone program is broken. Since I now have unlimited minutes, it isn’t giving me the heart attack it once did, but it has upended my plans for the day as I will now have to walk over there, stand in line to place the order and go through the same process when I go to pick up the order.
    Hitting the snooze button to give myself an extra hour in bed was my fault, but the rest of the sabotage of the day’s plans was entirely due to Walgreen’s. This time I am giving up at 25 minutes.

  5. Just the topic for all the plant obsessed Argh people out here.

    My containers are lushly planted, flower profusely and are much praised. This was not always the case. Things I have learned.

    1. Before you plant, get some water storage granules and put them in your planting soil. They are expensive but last for 5 or 6 years. They look like pulverized grains of rice and when soaked in water expand to some thing the size of a large pea. They then slowly release the water. So you get away with watering less frequently. Put them even into planting mixes that say they retain water (unless they say they contain water storage granules). IF you have already planted your plants, take the handle of a fork or spoon, make deep holes in the soil and dribble some granules into the hole, then take the fork or spoon reinsert it into the hole and stir it a bit to disperse the granules a bit. Cover the hole over with soil.

    2. Try to remember to water several times a week. Containers dry out faster than soil.

    3. You won’t have to worry about it this year, because it is late in the season and you have all those fertilizer spikes, but fertilize once a month (I do it in the first few days and if I can’t remember if I have done it, the plants are out of luck until next month. So I don’t kill them by over fertilizing. I once lost 24 orchids by over fertilizing). When in doubt, use less fertilizer – Half strength ever two weeks instead of once a month.

    4. When it has started to cool off, cover the plants with leaves of some other mulch you can scrape off in the spring. It doesn’t get particularly cold here, but geraniums, fuchsias and petunias have all lived over for me in winters where it has not been below 20 F. Particularly the container plants because they are well drained.

    I am now motivated to post a picture of my containers on Instagram. Oh, I have lousy luck with tomatoes in containers so I have no advice for them.

    1. That’s why I have ceramic water spikes. Now I just have to drink more wine so I have enough bottles.

      1. I tried that once. But the bottles drained faster in my soil than I expected and I kept forgetting to refill them every day (my plants were thirsty. We have typically 30 to 60 days without noticeable rainfall – hence West Coast wildfires). You probably are more competent than I am.

        I have posted my container pixs on #arghink.

      2. I’m sad to say that you can’t trust those watering spikes. Add them, by all means, but don’t trust them to get enough water to a plant.

        I agree you should add the water retention granules (I use the Soil Moist brand). For next year, I’d buy the slow release fertilizer pellets (I use Osmocote Plus). Mix both in with the soil before planting. You may want to splurge and get a water meter (although about half the ones you buy don’t work). The soil needs to dry out between waterings but not get too dry. If it is hot hot hot you may need to water every day. Even cactus need water, a fact that even our local nurseries seem to forget.

        You need to make a routine like “when I get up to get tea/coffee/wine I will go out and check plants”.

        Or plant mint in one container and say that you get a mint julep whenever you water.

    2. Thank you for these tips! I’m a fairly new gardener, getting more serious about it over the past 3 years, and particularly this year. I inherited a bunch of containers from my parents’ house, which we emptied out and sold last year. I have found container gardening tricky–soil dries out so quickly. Also, have planted some things I would indeed like to try to winter over. So appreciate the tips you’ve given here!

  6. There’s an attitude for gardening I’ve read about for people who have other things they’d rather do, but still try to do it.

    It’s a liitle like survival of the fittest—if the plants in my garden can’t adjust to my needs they don’t belong in my garden.

    I have been engaged in destruction as gardening this season. Killing ALL the English ivy!

    I have gardening tools of destruction from Japan (very scary looking btw)—I hope I don’t miss the roots and hack myself by mistake.

    I am not afraid to use Roundup, which I tell the ivy all the time. In some areas it is only way to go. If the little fuckers thwart me and come back after I pulled and hacked away and pulled some more, a squirt of Roundup is in their future.

    I am the master of my garden. Attitude.

    1. I had to laugh. It sounds like me with bindweed. Except we find weed-b-gone works better than roundup but you still need to apply it at least 3 times. Again and again and again AND THE YARD /GARDEN IS STILL FULL OF BINDWEED! I hate that stuff. Western bindweed roots go down 20-30 feet. How am I supposed to deal with that?

      On the positive side, sunflower forest has expanded and expanded and is now full of goldfinches. The only time they visit is while the sunflowers bloom. They say they prefer flowers which match them. I think my sunflowers may be mutant though because each year they self-seed they get taller. They are now 12 ft tall with stalks like tree trunks. But they are alive!

  7. I bought plants to fill in bare spots 2 or 3 weeks ago. I’ve planted half of them. The other half are waiting in the shade and watered everyday. Poor things. Cut the dead heads off and should be planted tomorrow. Sometimes the little darlings get into the soil right away. The poor plants for the front planter sat in a lovely scheme and finally tucked into the soil a month later. I do water and fertilize. Why I took so long is anyone’s guess.

  8. I’m not great at container gardening, although my regular garden does pretty well. I either forget to water them or it rains too much and drowns them. Don’t even get me started on indoor plants. Between my neglect and the cats’ attentions, I am down to one sad spider plant.

    1. When I had roommates with cats (I’m allergic to cats, even though I work with them) I had a spider plant hanging over my desk. The cats had kittens, and the kittens would climb up on top of my printer so they could reach the spider plantlets where they dangled, not just to bat at them but to eat them. This intrigued me enough that I tasted the spider plant. The leaves are sweet. So I am surprised that your one remaining plant is a spider plant.

  9. Snap! I bought a big pot for one of my work plants. Said plant is a shrub with succulent leaves.

    It’s been sitting perched above a pot that’s two small for it for about 3 months. I water it, but that’s about it. On Monday, I will finally be potting it correctly.

    My bright problem is distraction. See something and go, “Ooh SHINY” instead of putting effort into the things I actually like.

    Good luck with yours.

  10. My current plan that needs action to go with it is to harvest the last of the lettuce (in grow bags on my deck), which has bolted but has some edible leaves still. Step two in the plan is to re-seed the grow bags for a fall crop.

    For indoor plants that are cat-proof, I highly recommend scented geraniums (not very exciting flowers, but the leaves smell like roses — my fave — or citrus). Cats aren’t interested in them, probably because of the strong scent and rough-textured leaves, and they (plants, not cats) get kinda’ leggy over the winter, but then if you cut them (plants again, not cats) back brutally and put them outside, they’ll bush up again and can come in rejuvenated for the next winter. I can’t keep most other indoor plants going, but I’ve had one geranium for probably thirty years, and it’s rooted any number of clones to give away. They’re also both under-watering-tolerant, so they survive benign neglect. Cutting a few leaves and putting them in your car on the dashboard in the summer makes the whole car smell amazing. Or just brushing past the plant releases the scene. Lovely, with none of the artificial notes of commercial house-fresheners.

  11. Was my kill all the ivy (like clean all the things) entry inappropriate? i also thought profanity (referred to ivy as fuckers) was okay here

    1. Maybe your original comment went into the spam folder.

      Ivy is so invasive. Also lady ferns. And my vinca has taken over the back 20 feet and is even doing extraordinarily well in the full-sun front yard.

      I’ve killed all but one bit of ivy; it starts under the front porch and I can’t get to the roots. I’ve destroyed all of the lady ferns. I like the vince, though.

    2. Ivy is a scourge here in Seattle taking over yards and green belts and killing the trees it climbs. I pull it out every time I find any in my backyard!

      1. ‘tis an evil plant but if you put it in a container it would live even under negligent conditions!

    3. I don’t think we do inappropriate. I love ivy, but I wouldn’t plant it anywhere, that stuff is the bully of the garden world. Oh, wait, maybe you’re in the Pending folder.

      Yep, that’s where you were. Sorry, I got behind here.

  12. You can do it! Although honestly containers are harder than in the ground, more moisture and temperature sensitive. Plants dry out fast in hot weather in containers or are easy to overwater when it’s cooler. Put some rocks in the bottoms of the containers for good drainage to prevent that and do extra watering on hot days and have fun with your garden. I highly recommend geraniums for easy blooms all summer and there are fun scented varieties of those.

  13. Oh, also you can hardly kill wisteria so if you like how that looks, stick one in the ground and give it something to climb. You can cut it back as brutally as you like or just let it go. If you have a dead tree, plant it against the trunk and it’ll climb it as a support and give it new life.

  14. I like containers. The water goes where I want it to go-to the plant. Herbs are fun and cost effective. Mine aren’t doing great this year; I need new ‘dirt’ next year.

    Petunias do well. And geraniums, marigolds, dahlias and zinnias. Have fun.

  15. We got some of those ceramic watering spikes this year and they are the bomb. Good luck with the flowers.

  16. Since moving to the apartment I only have a container garden. The shared green space is ornamentals only. Still, my fruit trees are growing like monsters, and will need to be root pruned and potted up before spring. It’s been such a wet winter that the most I have had to do for any of them is empty the drainage saucers after it rains. Late august will be different. Once it stops going subzero overnight I’ll have to actually give them some attention.

  17. I should just like to share that I still observe Naked Gardening Day (May 7), even though my plants are all plastic, and indoors. 🙂

  18. Have you thought of getting a gardener in? They could come once a week to weed, tidy and plant new things. Then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the display.

    1. At this point, a gardener would run away screaming. I have .65 acres which I haven’t done anything to in three years. Trees have fallen invasive species have invaded. Volunteer trees now have full time jobs. Plus it would cost fucking fortune. So I’m taking baby steps. Container gardening and mulch.

      1. You could maybe try one or two trees/shrubs/climbers that are related to your local native species. They should be easy to grow, and would add interest while fitting into the wild look. Often garden cultivars have a longer flowering season, or a more vivid colour, which could be fun. You’d need to try and keep them free of competition for the first few years, but if you just did two or three and gave them a square yard of thick mulch when you planted them, that shouldn’t be too hard.

        1. Jenny, fallen trees are great for insects, fungi, birds, and animals whether for living, dining, or shelter. Maybe you’ll see a pileated woodpecked or discover the ordered rows of holes made by a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

          Fallen trees open the canopy for shrubs to move in — those young volunteer trees are depended on by birds.

          I’m spending more time just hanging out in the yard and woods this year, observing and listening. It’s fun and interesting.

          1. I’ve got a dead magnolia in the back yard the pieces keep falling off of. BIG pieces. It was such a beautiful tree, even when it was dead, but now the nice twisty branches have fallen off and it’s a very tall stump. And I have mowed anything here in three years. The insects are covered. Once I finally get the place cleared out, I’m going to try for a butterfly garden in the front lawn.

        2. I have four volunteer trees here I’m going to have to get rid of, not including the three volunteer Rose of Sharons currently coming up through a stone wall.

          The problem is that this house is old for the US–built in 1947–and the plantings are equally old. I’m pretty sure the peonies are older than I am. The woman here. before me was a wonderful gardener, but then the house stood empty for a couple of years and the woods are advancing. I’m fine with that, and I love the Rose of Sharons (Roses of Sharon?) but they’re coming up through the bottom of very old stone walls, so they have to go. As do the four trees growing up in my forsythia. I’m quite sure the forsythia is older than I am, too. It feels like a betrayal of the woman who lived here before me to cut any of this out, but those trees have to go.

          In short, I live in a forest. No more trees.

          1. Everyone makes their own garden. She did what delighted her, but gardens are alive and always changing. She’d have changed things by now, too.

  19. I made huge sweeping plans for myself over the years… that never got off the ground. After I started knitting again I realised, don’t think big picture. Now I don’t go into a project thinking I am going to knit a jumper (took me years … years I tell you) I think, I will knit a stitch now … So like Batman said in Justice League “Save one” Save one plant now. That is all you have to do

    1. I’m with Kay! Small steps.

      I’m lucky to have a gardener — even though he doesn’t like to get rid of plants. He’ll look at the offending loosestrife or lady’s mantle or violet and ask, “Where should I move it to?” I discovered a hidden garden behind the tool shed where he planted the non-native daylilies and rosa rugosa I’d wanted to eliminate.

      Also, he can resuscitate any plant. After many years I gave up on a trumpet flower that a friend had originally passed on to me at the end of the summer season. The thing, finally, was completely dead. Well, not so much. Sean piled mulch around it in the woods, added Superthrive regularly, and watered it a lot. Yesterday he handed it back to me, fully of leaves. It’s going to be a tough job for me to kill it all over again, but I’m probably up to the task.

  20. I spent yesterday coddling my potted plants. Giving each one individual attention by putting them one at a time into a rubber dish pan of water. Letting them soak for 20 +/- minutes while pruning the dead or drooping leaves and dead heading the little guys. It was just that kind of day. Years ago I used to have a kiddie pool and would put the whole gang in the water and just watch the leaves revive themselves.

  21. I am not good with plants. I’ve learned a few hardy ones that survive being neglected and stick with those. I thought I’d be so smart and invest in perennials outside, but many have died. I pretty much killed the tomato plants I was trying to grow from seed; the ones that were already baby plants when I got them are slowly produced tomatoes. I think I’m among those who enjoy plants but don’t have the focus needed. And I despise weeding and getting my hands dirty, which is a problem. Most of my house plants become root bound quickly.

  22. Today’s (August 2nd) New York Times has an article called “A Plant That Cannot Die Reveals its Genetic Secrets ” that begins: The longest-lived leaves in the plant kingdom can be found only in the harsh, hyperarid desert that crosses the boundary between southern Angola and northern Namibia.

    A desert is not, of course, the most hospitable place for living things to grow anything, let alone leafy greens, but the Namib Desert — the world’s oldest with parts receiving less than two inches of precipitation a year — is where Welwitschia calls home.

    In Afrikaans, the plant is named “tweeblaarkanniedood,” which means “two leaves that cannot die.” The naming is apt: Welwitschia grows only two leaves — and continuously — in a lifetime that can last millenniums.

    “Most plants develop a leaf, and that’s it,” said Andrew Leitch, a plant geneticist at Queen Mary University of London. “This plant can live thousands of years, and it never stops growing. When it does stop growing, it’s dead.”

    Now this sounds like the perfect house plant.

  23. I think the trick is to make the garden adjust to you and not you pander to it. I garden more now (empty nester) but when we had kids basically it was all bushes and pansies and perennials that didn’t need watering. And a lawn because my husband would mow.
    Every fall I planted pansies because they would do fine without watering. And that was pretty much it.

    I tend to kill things in containers because they need watering more. Even now I’m not a great watered.

    1. None have died. I just put the ones I didn’t get in the planters yet in a wagon full of water, so they’re lolling around out there now.

Comments are closed.