If you fall off the horse…

Several years ago I became friends with a gentleman who’s gardening experience was limited to mowing the lawn. Over the years he has recognized that gardening is a passion of mine. He began to ask questions and once a year or so he and his son would help me with some of my larger gardening chores. More recently he has become interested and actively involved in taking care of the garden in his small city-lot. Happily, he is becoming conifer-curious!

Picea glauca 'Pendula'
This thirty-something year-old specimen of Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ is a little over 30 feet tall in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden. Perfect for smaller gardens where there is much more vertical space available than horizontal.

A few years back, he called me to let me know that he purchased one of those oak half-barrels folks use for container gardening. I had a small tree that he had admired for a few years and I offered to plant it in the pot for him. He and his wife planted a few flowers to fill out the container and soften the appearance of the old barrel. As it turned out, I didn’t explain watering practices sufficiently and he and his boy pretty much created a bog-in-a-barrel and eventually everything died.

That was three years ago. Earlier this week I asked my friend if he was ready to give his container garden another try (his previous difficulties set his container gardening enthusiasm back a bit). He had filled the container with a fresh batch of good, coarse, composted potting soil and was ready and waiting for advice as to which plants he should try this time.

Back in 2010 I grafted several conifers including a few Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ in my little hobby greenhouse. This year I’ve been planting some of those little cuties in open spaces around my garden. Of course I don’t need all of the new plants that I have propagated, so some of my friends and family have been the happy recipients of the extras. I thought that one of these ‘Pendula’s would be a perfect tree for my friend’s container.

This small tree (with proper watering and care) should thrive happily in its new home on my friend’s patio. My plan is to allow it to grow in this container for several years and by the time it requires more room for root growth, I will help my friend dig a proper hole and plant it in his landscape. This will be a fun way for him to regain confidence in his gardening ability and also provide a nice larger specimen for him to plant into the new garden I have designed for him (filled with conifers, of course).

I believe I may have a new convert.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Ps, Here are a few things to remember when growing conifers in containers. First, please do not make the same mistake my friends made by over watering. Plants need to breathe too. One good guideline that I use is to check the moisture level with my finger.

Push your index finger into the soil and if the soil is dry, give the container a good soak, if it is moist, don’t. Now, I consider dry as approximately the moisture content that most packaged potting soils are when you first cut open the bag. If the soil becomes too dry, you will have a difficult time re-hydrating. New out of the bag soils soak up water very well.

Frequency of watering will depend on your weather conditions and how full your containers are of plant roots. More plants = more roots + hot temperatures = more frequent watering. Again, please check your moisture content with a simple finger check. When it comes to conifers, smaller, slower growing plants use less water, larger plants that produce more annual growth, use more water.

Too much water = bog-like soil that most plants do not enjoy. Too little water = arid desert conditions, also not good for most plants. Don’t fret about it, you’ll get a feel for watering your containers before long.

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