I have honed my gardening skills to point where I have encountered almost every possible scenario and have learned how to adapt. Every year is different, some cool and wet, others hot and dry and everything in between. It is possible to have a good year even if you encounter non-favorable conditions by learning to adapt to change. I often hear people say it was a bad year for tomatoes meanwhile I have so many, I can not give them away. With that said, follow my advice below and hopefully you will gather some insight on my no so conventional gardening methods that could help you have that perfect year… every year.
I remember a time when I laughed at the thought of container gardening. Coming from an agricultural background it just did not seem logical to me. But when I started growing tomatoes in 15-gallon nursery pots, I quickly discovered how much easier it is to grow in a container. The plants did better in cooler conditions, I was able to move the 15-gallon pots in and out of the greenhouse in April and by mid-May had 3-foot plants.
Since I have been growing everything from onions to eggplant in my containers. You do need to water them more often. The only crop I struggle with using containers are cucumbers and other vine crops. They do much better when planted in the ground.
Small plant pots such as hanging baskets usually flourish early and start to die off in the heat of the summer. There can be many reasons: insect infestations, fungus, lack of adequate water and depleted soil nutrients. Some plants attract aphids, and they will slowly kill your plant without you ever noticing them. Same goes for spider mites; they are so small you need a magnifying glass to see them.
Fungus is usually the last thing that will kill your plants but once it appears, it is almost always certain death. There are many all-natural treatments that should be sprayed on the plants as a preventative measure as once fungus appears it is usually too late.
Once the temperature reaches 80, you will need to adequately water your plants every day. Hanging baskets will dry out within hours on a hot summer day. A good way to determine the moisture content of a hanging basket is to lift it up. If it is heavy, it doesn’t need to be watered. If very light it is probably too dry. This method should be used on rainy days to determine if it rained enough to skip watering.
Perhaps the biggest reason for plants to die off in hanging baskets is the lack of nutrients. You can use the best potting soil mixed with the best compost and eventually it will be depleted of nutrients. Understanding the correct balance of fertilizer can be tricky because over doing it worse than using nothing. I use a mild (3-3-3) mixture every week starting in mid-June. Use organic fish based fertilizer that will not burn the plant.
Foliar feeding is another interesting topic and if done right can dramatically enhance plant yields. I once read that a plant can absorb 22 times more nutrients through their leaves than roots. The issue is applying fertilizer to leaves will burn them. The art behind it is finding the right fertilizer and applying it at the correct time of the day. I use weak solution of liquid kelp from GS Plant foods and apply a fine mist on my plants every other day. I also add a small about of copper sulfate for disease control and once a week apply a light mist of AgroThrive liquid fertilizer mix (1 oz per gallon). What I consider a mist is light coding without it dripping off.
If you want nice stuff that last the summer you must keep your plants alive. Two things I use, one mentioned above is copper sulfate and neem oil or a combination of the two. Both are organic and can be purchased at your local Home Depot. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when growing plants, and the most common cause is plant disease. It is best to mist your plants regular schedule. Do not wait until there is a problem before treating otherwise it may be too late.
Insects will always be a problem. These bugs will eat your plants and spread plant disease. Many people let them eat because they do not want to add any insecticides to their food. Understood, I once felt the same way but after treating my plants and seeing the difference it made, I much rather treat with organic labeled pesticides and have plants that are healthy.
Compost is an essential element of a healthy garden. I compost all my yard and garden waste including my leaves. When all is said and done, I generate about a cubic yard of compost each year which I blend into potting soil saved from the year prior and what is left is used in the garden. All leaves go through a chipper shredder before entering the compost pile and again in the spring after they had time to decompose. The spring shredding usually produces a soil like product that is ready for use providing there are no visible leave fragments. If leave fragments exist, I will let the compost sit a few more months until they are no longer visible.
I use grass clippings for mulch. Many will say it puts too much nitrogen in the ground, but I disagree. I apply thin layers of grass clippings so that the sun turns them into a golden tan color. They help keep moisture in, enhance appearance and keep weeds down. Make sure not to put down more than an inch of clippings per year. NEVER USE CLIPPINGS FROM A TREATED LAWN. We do not fertilize or treat or lawn for weeds which gives us access to an unlimited supply of mulch.