This post is a rewrite of something we posted back in 2009 (original here), written by my wonderful spouse, Ross Arbo. I asked him to write a fresh post for us this year, but he reminds me that the advice for yard gardens stands the test of time. He’s right. So instead, I’m updating it to include some houseplant / container gardening info along with his previous sage advice for your yard.
Around now, the weather is getting (noticeably) warmer, and many people start to think: gardening. No matter where your garden is – balcony, counter, or yard – a bit of extra effort now can spell maximum enjoyment later.
Two notes for all gardeners and would-be gardeners:
- Our library has wonderful gardening books and they don’t need to be new and fancy to fit the bill. Stop by and ask the helpful staff for some advice on finding the right one for your particular garden.
- While there is no official “garden store” in New West, there are some great options for buying locally: most chain grocery stores carry garden items seasonally and Lowe’s in Queensborough and Uptown Market on 6th has a great selection this time of year. There are two dollar stores in Uptown with a decent selection, and both Robin at Bunches & Blooms in River Market and Rani at The Bloom Bloom Room in Sapperton can probably help you find the exact thing you need.
One final word: for any of you dying to buy and plant that technicolor flat of impatiens you see on sale, and even though our spring feels like it started a month ago, please wait until Mothers Day (May 8, 2016); it’s often still too cold at night. The flowers will just get shocked and die and then it’s a waste.
- Pruning: Specifically, deciduous shrubs and trees. A lot of people recommend major pruning – the kind that removes up to 1/3 of the plant’s branches or growth – for the more dormant months of January and February. You could squeak that in now if your shurb or tree hasn’t started leafing out, but with our warmer spring this year, that’s likely already happened. Wait till next year for a big prune, but for less severe pruning, wait till March-April when the buds are-a-poppin’.
Weeds are just starting to show. Grab them out of your garden beds now before they seed/spread too far and you can theoretically have yourself a worry free May. You will definitely be weeding by June 1st. Be sure to prolong your great weeding job by running a cultivator through the bed after.
- Dividing: Most perennials can and should be divided at this time. I don’t know how many garden beds I’ve seen with HUGE clumps of peonies, just starting to stretch that are begging to be divided. Get out there with a sharp shovel and start dividing already! Make friends with your neighbours and offer them what won’t fit in your garden.
- Soil amending: Mix a bag or six into your beds/pots or simply ‘top-dress’ as both will add great nutritional value to your existing soil. Choices these days are endless; from good old ‘mushroom manure’ to ‘locally sourced, sterilized, organic worm castings’. Remember that the operative word is amend; adding too much can shock and burn new roots/shoots, so go easy.
- Enjoying: Gardening does take some time and effort but, in the end, you must enjoy your little patch. No matter what you do, make it your own.
Chances are you’ve got tropicals in your house, and the availability of gardening materials this time of year should turn your mind to your potted indoor friends even if the temperature in your house is relatively a constant all year round.
- Water more frequently: Generally, my houseplants go a bit dormant in the winter, and I find I need to water way less often than in the warmer months. Springtime, especially a warm-ish one like we are having, is a good time to up the amount of water you’re feeding your houseplants. Start slowly, and monitor them for signs of overwatering. And, if you’re simply dumping water into every pot once a week, maybe rethink your watering schedule. I learned the hard way that the four or five plants on a particular stand in my sunroom needed way more water than another two or three in other parts of my house, and yet I was watering them all on the same schedule. I lost more than one plant to over or under watering because I didn’t treat them as individuals.
- Prune and dust: I noticed the other day that one of my favourite plants was looking a bit dull and when I sat down to clean it, I ended up spending almost an hour pruning off unnecessary or weak growth and shining up its leaves. We forget about dusting plants, and they appreciate it if you remember.
- Re-locate: If you’ve got a plant that needed a bit of extra sun all winter (or perhaps that needed to be kept darker all winter to ensure blooms in the summer), this time of year is a great time for you to step back and think about how much light each plant needs and is getting, and move things around as required. Sometimes just spinning the pot around on the ledge is all it needs.
- Re-pot: Probably the most common thing I see when friends ask me what might be wrong with their house plant is that it is root bound. If you’ve had that plant for more than a year and you’ve never upgraded it’s housing to a larger pot, now is the time to inspect your carbon dioxide-eating friend to see if a re-pot is in order. Generally, if it looks like it’s not really growing anymore, and the soil is frequently dry, or its spilling over the edges – you probably need to re-pot. I found this post to be a great round up of how and when to re-pot.
- Feed: Do a bit of research on what your plant needs and give them all a blast of fertilizer or plant food to jump start their season. Don’t be afraid to move your plant outside for the afternoon on a sunny and warm day – the air will be good for your plant friend, and it often also removes the step of dusting the leaves.
A lot of the advice for houseplants and outdoor yard gardens applies to containers: feed, re-pot, amend soil, etc. Here’s a few extra tips for containers.
- Plant for the location of your container: If this is your first year with containers on your balcony, you need to consider how much sun they’re going to get. Figure out which direction your balcony faces and get your Google fingers going to find plants recommended specifically for that direction-facing balcony. One of my first apartments in New Westminster had an enormous balcony that faced north and I had no idea that plants that needed a lot of sun would fail to thrive.
- Assess drainage: Two of my herb containers had an awful time last year. Not only did the drought scald their leaves, the container/soil combination I had them in didn’t do them any favours – they were way too well drained. I basically grew dried herbs. Although gardening experts will tell you to use “well draining soil” you do need to remember that a container is more likely to suffer from too much drainage than a bed in the ground because there is no natural water supply to rely on. Think back to last year and consider fixing up your pots to be the right amount of drainage.
- Resist the urge to overcrowd: Planting young plants into a fresh container always makes your container look HUGE and your plant look TINY, but resist the urge to add too many friends. It will only mean you need to thin later, and some of the plants you add might not make it.
Enjoy your gardens, big and small!