Monday, April 5, 2010

Revamping and reviving the garden - Part Two

Fuchsia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt"

Nice work for a sunny weekend - a little make-over of my garden's containers. Over the last two weekends, I've revamped six large planters that have been neglected for a couple of years.

On the right, Rose "Glamis Castle"with dead grass and tangles. On the left, a spindly clerodendrum ugandense.

Last week, I tackled this blue ceramic planter with an overgrown rose, a gangly geranium, and a tangle of nearly dead ornamental grass. I also spruced up its neighbor, a potted clerodendrum ugandense - a shrub with pretty little blue butterfly-shaped flowers.

This weekend, I took on another overgrown rose, a spindly hardy fuchsia, and a potted camellia.

In all cases the problem was the same. The main attraction of the planter - a flowering shrub in each case - was overgrown, undernourished and misshapen. The soil in each pot had receded in the pot so the surface was some 3 -4 inches below the rim. Companion plants were either dead, non-existent, or overgrown.

This mess is the floribunda "Julia's Rose" - a gift from a friend. This rose blooms in a wonderful, odd tan-lavender color. It grows with a large established escheveria sporting two bloom spikes. A small pot of burros-tail sedum is dried out and turning yellow.

First things first - make sure each pot was well watered. Three of the six pots were on drip lines, so they were hydrated, but the other three had dried out and needed to be soaked.

Next, take the secateurs to the shrub. Be brutal. Cut it down hard. Make the cuts just above a promising growth bud on the stem. Choose your bud wisely. Is it pointed outward and upward, or is it pointed into the center of the shrub? Cut to the bud that will grow in a direction that adds to the shape and fullness of the shrub.

Don't allow yourself to get too tender-hearted to cut off foliage or flowers. If the shrub survives - and it most likely will - you'll get them back in a few weeks. Cuts are kinder than allowing the shrub to remain lanky and misshapen.

Here the white-flowered English Rose "Glamis Castle" has been mercilessly cut down to a few eight-inch sticks. Don't hate me - it will be fine.

Before cutting back the fuchsia, I wanted to see what looked nice with its flowers. Here, a dark-leaved begonia blooms in the same bright coral. I decided to plant the begonia, a fancy-leaved pelargonium, and an ornamental grass, Isolepsis cernua "Fiber Optic" with the fuchsia.

To help the pot weather over the dry times, I added some Soil-Moist crystals to the soil. These polymer crystals look like coarse salt, but they absorb water and help keep plants from drying out. To show how they absorb water, I soaked some for about an hour. They turn into jelly-like clear lumps, holding enough water to swell them tens of times their own size.

The instructions for Soil-Moist say to mix it in dry with potting soil for a new planting, or add it to established pots by sinking holes 6" deep and sprinkling in small amounts.

Because the soil level in the pot had receded over time, after I cut back the fuchsia I added about three inches of potting soil to fill. Then I made divots in the soil to nestle the companion plants in.

When you knock a plant from its nursery pot, hold it upside down and tap sharply on the rim - it should just fall right out. Use your fingers to break up the root ball a bit so the roots will reach out into its new soil.

When I turned the grass Isolepsis cernua "Fiber Optic" out of its pot, I found it was quite pot-bound. I took the shears to it, cutting apart the matted roots. I divided it by ripping the plant vertically down the middle - this seems quite brutal and heartless, but in reality your plants will thank you for it - it gives the roots a chance to stretch out and get some room. Plus - now I had two grasses!

Water it all in well, pressing down to make sure everything is firmly planted. The soil will recede a bit as water drains, so add some more soil, press, and water again. Here my fuchsia, cut down to a few woody stems, has a new lease on life with a dark-leaved begonia, the ornamental grass, and that pretty pelargonium. I also added a tiny succulent - haworthia - bought for $1, with its tiny spike of pale pink bloom. Beside the pot you can see the other half of the grass, awaiting its new home.

Here's "Julia's Rose" after the same treatment. She has more soil covering her ankles, and a couple of pinky-bronze coleus have been added, along with a coral-flowered impatiens to join the lavender-flushed escheveria.

I didn't cut the camellia back too hard today - it still has three lovely blossoms, and I let them stay. Once they finish, in a few days, I'll cut their stems back hard. I topped up the soil, and added another coral-colored impatiens, a glaucous blue succulent, and the other bit of grass. That potted cyclamen that had been tossed in after Christmas? I nestled that in here, too.

Finally, a quick tidying up for a cymbidium orchid - picked up at Trader Joe's three years ago and reblooming. I staked the flower stems, added a bit more soil, and tucked in an angel-wing begonia to take over when the orchid flowers finish.

The last thing to add is a nice drink of water with some fertilizer dissolved in it - Miracle Gro is an easy choice, or Fish Fertilizer. Use a balanced formula so that leaves, buds and roots get enough nutrients to take hold. Look for the NPK numbers - nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium - to be around the same value, like 5 - 5 - 5.

The containers don't look like much now, but in a few weeks as they take hold, the new plants will grow and bloom. The shrubs will send out new growth. Because I did this so late in spring, I may lose out on summer blooms, but that's OK - I'll get pleasure in autumn and the companion plants will make up for it in the meantime.

Not all of the plants I bought went into the revamped containers. The heuchera went into the main garden. And the pricey white sage will get planted onto the hot, dry hillside next weekend.

Here's something I couldn't resist - escheveria nodulus, with garnet-striped leaves. It was so showy I decided to showcase it in its own pot.

I cut back some of the variegated ivy in the large planter and cut away some of the overgrown ivy to reveal a little clay statuette that was hidden away. Here the fuchsia and its friends greet visitors to our doorstep - won't it be pretty as everything fills out?


Blondie's Journal said...

You did this nicely. A very informative post. Most...well all of my pots are annuals because the pots would just crack in our cold winter weather, but I enjoyed reading how you cleaned these pots up, cut plants down and divided them up. I LOVE fiber optic grass and have used this before in pots!

Thanks for an excellent post!



Love love love that dark begonia.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

It's truly amazing how resilient plants are. Great "working" post- very useful to those new to the hobby.

Anonymous said...

I have really loved and appreciated reading about your revamping and reviving. I'm tempted now to go out and purchase some ornamental grasses just so I can rip them in half!
All of that wonderful color that you can enjoy in your hardy garden plants is creating a bit of envy in me and my semi-black thumb -- but I am going to get out this week and purchase several varieties of tomato plants.

Gilly said...

I love that dark begonia, too. But the first thing I want to ask you, is how big are your pots???

I like the idea of growing little things with big things, but never seem to have enough room - maybe I should use bigger pots?

Your post was a real gardening article, think I had better copy it and pin it to my board so I can follow the instructions!

sarah louise said...

hi aunt snow (o:
it's inspiring to see the planting that you've done. yes, it's fun to watch the plants get bigger and fill out the pots, but there's something, too, about seeing them freshly planted... just starting out as young 'uns. new beginnings. (o: thanks for sharing your pretty plants with us -- you've got a green thumb! thank you, also, for stopping by my blog the other day and leaving a comment. have a great week! (o: