Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gardening Q&A- Upside down Tomato Planters and Mulch

(crossposted at BlogHer)

Whenever I meet knew people and tell them I'm a gardener, they have questions. Wide ranging questions that vary depending upon that individual's interest and experience. Today's questions are a sampling of the wide-ranging variety of interests in growing.

1. What do you think of those upside-down hanging tomato systems?

Truth be told, I do not like them. The containers are rather small -maybe 10" round and a foot long- which means there is not a lot of soil in them. Tomatoes need lots of root space to flourish- that's why you plant them in 1/2 whiskey barrels or spaced 18" apart in a garden. These systems, the plants -it seems to me- will stunt the growth by the lack of root space.

The small size is needed to keep these containers from pulling off fascia boards if hung on your house. I still wonder can you hang these high enough to keep the plants off the ground and still be able to reach the top of the container to water? I'm short. I don't give myself much hope of this one.

Additionally, with such a small root space when the heat of summer comes, you will need to water these containers at least once a day, most likely twice. As good intentioned as many of us are, I can see days when this will not happen.

While searching for actual experience with these systems, I found greentxmama who provided 2 videos of her experience last summer with this system. Several of her commenters- and greentxmama herself- complained of very low yield.

In the suggested stream of this video was another showing how to adapt a 5 gallon bucket for a hanging system. While this would give you more soil for your plant; you would need very strong attachments to not lose the pot/siding under the weight of the bucket filled with damp soil and a fully grown plant. Still, if I were choose to grow upside plants, this is the method I would use. Yet I still think I would just plant the tomato upright and let it hang over the top of the plant.

2. Mulch? Tell Me Everything.

Mulch can be used to hold moisture in the soil, to cut down on weeds, and to improve the makeup -the tilthiness- of your soil. Because these are all important, we should all consider mulching our garden beds.

However, before laying down a cooling and protecting layer of mulch, please let your soil warm up. I always try to use a natural guide to planting - my favorite spring guide plant is the lilac. Usually when the lilac blooms the fear of killing night time frosts are over. The soil is awakening and ready to accept almost every plant that can grow over the summer. -yes there are exceptions in the deep south where they may take a break from growing during the hottest days of summer.

When -and if - lilacs bloom in your neighborhood, then start thinking about getting the mulch for your gardens.
Or check the local garden center to find the last frost-free date in your area. That is accurate so less romantic that watching for the lilacs.

Choosing the right mulch is determined first by the type of garden and second by your aesthic. A utilitarian garden such as vegetable garden can be mulched with straw, shredded paper or compost. These items will break down over the season and be dug into the soil to further decompose over the winter adding fresh nutrients to the soil.

More formal or decorative gardens can take a fine-textured such as cocoa hulls or shredded bark which only require a thin covering of 2-3 inches to do a fine job. Coarser mulches need a thicker layer to work -add a layer of newspaper under them to really protect the soil. These mulches often last more than one year before needing to be dug in and replaced.

This E-How video is a great basic on mulching:

How to Mulch a Garden -- powered by eHow.com

Later Gardening Q&As will discuss fighting insects and pruning. What other questions do you have?

I also blog at: Weight for Deb and BlogHer on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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