I confess. I blew my flower budget on trees last year. I had the intentions of buying just one tree but that turned into two, then I found a variety I’d been looking for and then, impulsively, I bought one more — for a grand total of 4 trees and just over $200.
This number is important, because it is my total yearly flower budget for soil, planters, annuals, sprinkler wands, hoses and everything else need to keep our covered porch blooming — and I blew it.
I’ve spent much more in the past. I’ve also gone smaller but I’ve learned $200 is my magic number. It enough to make 7 beautiful baskets but not so much that I get sick to my stomach if they get parched and die during one of my long stretches of night shifts at the work.
(It happens. I’m usually exhausted, I assume my husband will take care of everything like he normally does. He’s exhausted, he assumes that I will take care of everything like I normally do. The result is painfully ugly and there is no recovering from it – at least for the plants. The marriage takes a day or two, but generally heals once the sting of loss is over.)
Keeping flowers alive in a sea of sagebrush can be a challenge. I’m far from a Master Gardener but I’ve spent the past twenty or so years, with my hands in the dirt, trying to figure out the best way to add color to my world. These are some tips I have learned along the way to keep my color baskets alive and blooming:
Soil Matters — I use moisture control potting soil with fertilizer in the mix. Our deck gets HOT and this mix buys an extra 12 hours between waterings. It also keeps the greens green and the blooms proliferating. I don’t reuse soil but I do recycle it into my flowerbeds and garden.
- Container Size Makes a Difference — The bigger the container, the more soil it can hold and the wetter the roots will stay. I like to use peat pots. They keep the roots cool and don’t get as hot as plastic or require as much water as coco fiber lined baskets. The caveat is that they need replaced every few years. I’ve found this true with both plastic and fiber hangers so I don’t mind it.
- Pick Your Plants Wisely — Know what thrives in your growing conditions. This will vary from porch to porch.
- Replant Preplanted Flower Baskets — The soil used to grow baskets in a moisture heavy greenhouse planted for the big box stores is made to keep the roots from getting too wet. On a porch open to extreme elements, they need different soil. The roots also need more room. Save yourself $50 and some heartache. Get those plants in potting soil and a slightly bigger plant pot and you won’t be disappointed. (If you purchase your baskets from a local nursery, you might be able to skip this step.)
I’ve learned geraniums can’t take the wind, bleeding hearts can’t take the cold, lobelia can’t take the heat, calibrachoa doesn’t like ANYTHING about our porch and petunias are the only plants that thrive out here – so petunia baskets are my staple.
(Though, I confess, once in a while, I get brave and toss a verbena plant or some sweet smelling alyssum. Sometimes it works, some times – not so much – but the petunias fill in where any fatalities have occurred so it doesn’t feel like such a loss.)
I usually splurge on the Wave variety of petunias. They are a trademarked hybrid that promise to grow bigger and better than heirloom petunias. They also average $9 a six pack as oppose to $3 for the heirloom variety. Last year, due to an exhausted flower budget, I cut back on Waves. I still bought a couple packs but filled the rest of my baskets with heirlooms to save some money and assuage my overspending guilt.
It let the nerd in me run a side-by-side growth experiment. Wave vs Heirloom. Is it really worth the extra money to splurge on hybrids? Like most things, it’s really a matter of opinion. My Wave baskets crushed the heirlooms in growth, blooms and vigor early in the season but the heirlooms caught up and looked just as lovely near the end. This was more than impressive considering we sustained weeks upon weeks of 90+ daily temps in a row, perhaps our hottest summer on record?
While this was no where near a perfect experiment, the Waves were premium starts with a premium price tag – all other conditions were about the same. I used the same planters and soil. The flowers also had similar sunlight, water and wind exposure. This is what they looked like near the end of July.
While every plant has its place, I’ll be splurging on Waves. I might fill in some spots with heirlooms, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m also giving up $6 a cup coffee and putting the money saved towards an annual tree budget.
These photos were taken in July of 2017, but by the end of August – the heirlooms were just as full as the Waves.
Different climates require different approaches. What are your favorite planter flowers and how do you keep them hearty all summer? I love learning new tricks and would love to hear my reader’s stories. Please feel free to share in comments!