One of our popular garden centers has started its spring advertising campaign. I'm anxious to go traipsing up and down their isles of colorful greens and flowering plants.
My problem is that once I park my car, get out of it and scan the entrance, I immediately start drooling over the parade of blooming flowers, lush green leaves and designer plant containers. I get budget amnesia, grab a cart, and start putting plants on it. But not this time . . . I say this nervously.
So how does a gardening nut exercise discipline when entering such places as these!
That's easy, you say. Plan ahead. Okay, I'll bite. I'll even make suggestions on things one (me in particular) should know and do before going to the garden center.
Know your micro-climate
What's a micro-climate? Every garden, large or small has a micro-climate that includes the soil; amount of shade and sun a particular area received during the course of a day, a month, a year; how much wind visits the spot (amount of protection from the wind); and rainfall. That's my laywoman's description.
For apartment balconies, porches and terraces, to some degree you control the amount of water a plant receives. For example, if you have an overhead, than rain water may not reach your plants (generally, its not enough anyway). Moreover, the container you use will also affect the amount of water available for your plants. Sun, shade and protection from wind will depend upon the shape and location of your space. What you need to know is when do you get sun and for how many hours.
Afternoon sun makes your space much warmer than in the morning. Example: my porch faces southwest but is surrounded by large trees: Wax myrtles, a huge maple and long leaf pine. I have an overhead and screened in porch. In the summer, I have one little corner that gets a generous amount of sun in the morning but only filtered sun by the afternoon. On a windy day and heavy rains, my porch gets sprayed with both.
So I'll be looking for shade tolerant plants that can thrive in just bright light.
How much time do you plan to, or can, devote to plant care?
This is a really important question. Some plants will require more attention than others, such as dead-heading flowering plants and cleaning debris from the floor of the porch. Plants in containers will require more frequent watering, particularly during growing season and in a hot, windy micro-climate. Caring for a garden can be therapeutic; still, time needed to give attention to plants may not always be available.
So what does this mean? Looking for plants adapted to the appropriate zone, requiring a medium amount of care, and frankly, can even take a bit of neglect. As much as I love to garden, I have little patience for fragile plants. Thus, I adhere to this last statement when selecting a plant.
An inventory of planters already in your possession
Not only is it important to know how many planters you already have, but also sizes and type. If you don't have any containers, you're about to enter the exciting world of planters. It's like going to a candy store. Selections in sizes, materials and colors are fabulous and wonderfully imaginative. I could write a whole post on containers and not scratch the surface. In fact, I believe I will do just that, at least give an overview. But for now, if you don't have any containers, please don't just run out and buy them without a gardening plan!
I do have planters of different colors, sizes and shapes (no, note those above!). The challenge for me is edit which ones I'll use to create an attractive collection of plants. If you didn't clean and examine them last fall, you know of course this is a good time to do so.
Colors that will complement patio furnishings
You may think this shouldn't be difficult. It is possible to have soft furnishings, such as cushions and pillows, that have lots of pattern. And it's possible to have these patterns and shapes give an uncomplimentary decor scheme to a wild and bright collection of flowering plants. For some ideas and inspirations, read my post "Tips And Inspirations For Your Apartment Balcony And Porch Decors."
Now is also a good time to just stake out the best garden centers and see what they offer.
A word of warning: depending upon where you live and the arrival of "true" spring, don't purchase what you see too soon. Or you may have to cover plants when the temperature drops at night or bring your plants indoors.
Another warning: know your planting zone. Just because a plant is in a garden center doesn't mean that plant is really suitable for your planting zone and micro climate. Been there, done that--too many times!!