Monday, July 30, 2012

The Plant Lab

On my patio resides a collection of pots stuffed with assorted annuals and perennials. I sometimes call it my container garden, but it's really my Plant Lab. I'm not a scientist and have never worked in a lab, which is probably wise. Explosions, broken glass, mostly sincere apologies, and rescued lab animals would be the result. For the sake of everyone involved, it's best my experiments all occur in well ventilated areas. My patio seems safe.


The Plant Lab

If I'm not sure how well a plant will do in my garden, it goes in the lab, which is to say I stick it in a pot and add it to the collection cascading down the patio steps. If something dies, I try not to get upset. I just tell myself to re-evaluate the methods I used to grow it, consider alternatives, and try again. Or I rip the damn thing out, cussing all the while, and head into the house for a glass of wine. A combination of the two is my favorite.


Cheap, colorful annual vinca are the only plants I've found that can tolerate the reflected heat off the kitchen door.




Red salvia 'Maraschino' thrives in a pot after struggling in my garden. After hanging the outside curtain to minimize the amount of reflected it receives, it perked up. But I still couldn't figure out why it needed such a ridiculous amount of water.


I finally spotted a hole in the side of the pot. The water was pouring out as fast as I was pouring it in. Duck tape solved the problem!


I have no idea what this plant is! It grew from a seed that looked like a nasturtium seed from a packet labeled Nasturtium, but it doesn't look like a nasturtium or resemble any of the pictures in the catalog I ordered it from. It's a mystery plant that would prefer afternoon shade rather than afternoon sun. Do you know what it is?  It hasn't bloomed yet.


I added 'Iron Butterfly' ironweed to the Plant Lab this year to see how well it would do. So far, it's a winner. It's highly attractive to pollinators and is much shorter than the more common ironweed.


My white annual gomphrena came in a little six pack labeled Purple. The purple attracted numerous pollinators but the white is ignored. Next year I'll buy them in bloom.


Growing next to  the gomphrena is Deep Perfume Purple nicotiana, which has no fragrance. It's easy to grow, but the pollinators ignore it, too. Something else will go in that pot next year.


Last year I started experimenting with Louisiana iris. I thought they needed standing water but as long as the soil is moist, they're fine. The red parrot feather in the front needs more water than the iris.


The iris experiment was so successful I added more non-draining pots to the patio. Toads love to hang out in these during the day.


After killing marguerites twice in the garden, I added them to the Plant Lab and finally figured out how to keep them happy - slightly moist, fast draining soil in full sun. Plus, they need to be pinched back every time you deadhead.


In my quest to add more fragrance to the garden, I potted up two tiny honeysuckle plants. Instead of letting them trail all over the patio, I wanted to keep them bushy and full by pruning them to increase volume. The Major Wheeler cultivar (solid green) is so tough, I'm planning on adding it a difficult spot in my front garden. The variegated honeysuckle has been more fickle.


The variegated honeysuckle has highly fragrant white flowers or so I've read. These haven't bloomed yet.


I was given these super dwarf hosta as a gift from a friend. It took quite of bit of moving around before I finally found a spot to make them happy. I was worried this experiment would fail.


They only grow a few inches tall.


One of my most successful experiments has been growing 'Ava' agastache in a big pot. It needs better drainage than my soil can offer.


It's a pollinator/hummingbird magnet!


I used a soil thermometer to determine which type of pot (clay, ceramic, resin, etc) kept the soil the coolest but they all registered the same temperature.

33 comments:

  1. That is a lot of pots. Of course right now I have lots also. Actually it's interesting about the plants needs and a good experiment.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Your lab garden is looking pretty healthy! My lab is underneath the redwood trees in the back of the garden. Some of the plants never want to leave! Could your mystery plant be 'Four O'Clocks' (mirabilis)? The seeds are large and could look somewhat like nasturiums. You will have even more pretty flowers!

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    2. Bingo! I think that's what they are. That explains why they don't like the afternoon shade. I grew 4 o'clocks last year and they were so miserable I pulled them. But I've noticed that seedlings are often stronger than the parent. It seems like they adapt better to the area where they rooted.

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    3. Sunray - When I have plants in pots I can move them around if they're not happy. It helps me determine what they need before they go into the garden. Sometimes, they stay in the pots forever! :o)

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  2. Your science lab looks prettier than any I've seen. It's a great way to get to know your plants more closely than just planting them in the garden and hoping for the best too, which is how I experiment sometimes.

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    1. Thanks! Sometimes if I feel I need to get to know a plant more before I stick it in the garden, it goes in the Lab. That way I can put it somewhere it will be happy.

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  3. I love your duct tape!! Designer duct tape, super!! Yes, those are Four O'Clocks. I had them in VA and ended up pulling them up after a couple years....unless you got up early or looked at them late in the day they were just gangly and green, no bloom.
    I am not big on watering containers....maybe if I had some of the gorgeous ones like that Agastache, I would give it a shot.

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    1. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the 4 O'clocks. Mine were such a wretched mess last year. Total pain in the butt! I love the zebra duck tape! I was going to buy normal silver duct tape but then I saw cute little rolls of Duck tape. They even had a duck on the label. Apparently, designer duct/duck tape in the new "in" thing. My middle school students cover their binders with it.

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  4. Yes, duct tape has come such a long way, hasn't it?! The miracle invention for sure. The agastache looks great in the pot. I tried growing it last year but it didn't survive the drought. The roots were too immature for that kind of torture. I love container gardening too. I've almost got it to where most of mine can tolerate the winter and don't need to be protected. A ginger and lemon tree are the only ones that need protection. My husband is most happy with this new arrangement ;)

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    1. It's always interesting to me to see which plants can survive winter in a pot. Some of my Plant Lab plants are super tough. I have a few agastache varieties in my garden beds, but most of it can't survive clay soil. I was tired of killing it so into a pot it went. Does your ginger produce an edible root? I've already killed a ginger plant this year. First plant lab casualty.

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  5. Your experiments are interesting, you plant in the pots the flowers and the trees! I think this variegated honeysuckle will be high and have flowers.

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    1. The honeysuckle plants I started with were really small but I think I'll have much larger plants and hopefully some flowers by next summer. I'm looking forward to their fragrance. :o)

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  6. What a great display! Your pots and tubs look at least as decorative as the plants and flowers that grow in them. I adore the greyish tubs with the scrolls in your first photo :-) Pots like that are very expensive over here in the UK so I tend to go for plain terracotta and paint them, but eventually the minerals in the soil seeps through and they don't look so good anymore. You don’t seem to have that problem though, although I know some people think that ‘aged’ look is the right way for pots, but yours are beautiful!

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    1. Thanks!! The fiberglass pots you're talking about were actually very affordable, thankfully. I always break terracotta pots. Plus, our summers are so hot that it's hard to keep the soil in terracotta moist.

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  7. Love your approach to experimental gardening and the duct tape! My Agastache is growing happily on a slope in full sun. The pollinators sure do love it! I am all for fragrant blooms especially the ones that attract the pollinators.

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    1. Growing agastache in my clay soil has been a huge challenge. I had to find varieties that preferred heavier soil and could handle our humidity. The pot with the duck tape is old and beat up but it's one of those big, foam pots that are super lightweight so I was determined to fix it. I just wish I had fixed it a month ago!! I've been watering my patio for a month! Argh!!

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  8. Your lab is a scientific wonder! So much going on, and you are being very observant about what each needs. And I have to say your lab looks great too.

    I can't grow gomphrena in my garden, despite it being an "easy" plant. It won't grow for me. I'm going to take a page from your book and try it next year in pots to see what it likes that I am not providing. Might do the same with spigelia marilandica, which I really, really want to grow, but must experiment with.

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    1. Thanks! I think what makes some plants so successful in pots is the improved drainage. Spigelia need moist, well draining soil in filtered shade so they should do fine in a pot in a shady spot. I've given up on growing most annuals in my garden beds. My soil is just too heavy. Lantana does well, though. :o)

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  9. I LOOOOVE that Iron Butterfly ironweed....not sure if it will grow here though.
    I'm sure that the super dwarf hosta will look really nice when it's all filled in....patience Dr.Tammy...patience.
    I think I'm going to have to get me some of that cool looking duct tape, it does come in quite handy sometimes....I've got a friend who uses it for EVERYTHING!! Thinks it's the best invention since sliced bread.

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    1. The dwarf hosta are so teeny! They started thriving once I began ignoring them. I think I'd been loving them too much. :o) Duct tape is my friend!! I saw a picture once of a duct tape dress but that was way too much duct tape for me!

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  10. Hey, Tammy, you've got quite a fine and interesting collection in your lab. Everybody needs one. Mine is scattered here and there, including in the compost, where medical miracles happen, bringing back the dead.

    I'm with Dorothy on four o'clocks, one of my favorites. Great fragrance. Iffy here in Connecticut, but I did get some to come back for a year or two. I'll take those pains in the butt off your hands any time.

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    1. Once I realized what they were, I pulled them. My 4 O'Clocks tortured me last year with their refusal to grow well without looking miserable. I had them in a pot and ended up dragging it all over the yard trying to find their happy place. I never found it. Every year I have seeds that have germinated in my worm compost pop up around the garden. This year it's a cantaloupe that I just discovered growing near some shrubs in the front yard. :o)

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  11. Oh, one more thing. For some reason, after looking at your ironweed image I can't get these words outta my head: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby . . . .

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    1. I googled those lyrics! Very groovy! :o)

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  12. You do an amazing job of keeping up with all those pots. I would consistently forget to water and kill everything. That said, I just planted Agastache this year and am worried about drainage. Perhaps I'll try moving just one of the plants into a pot just to try it out.

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    1. What agastache did you plant? Some do well in heavier soil than others. I have three different types in my garden beds. 'Ava' is very cold hardy and breezes through winter in a pot without any problems.

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  13. Tammy: You grow so many wonderful plants in pots! I love the idea of Irises in a pot--that would keep them from spreading too far out and invading other adjoining plants. I think you mentioned you grow Tulips in planters, too? I know your winters are more mild than mine, but have you had any issues with subzero temperatures and deep freezes of soil and tender perennials? Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. I was really surprised by how well the Louisiana iris have done in that pot!! They are super happy. :o) Virginia winters can be unpredictable. Although we rarely go below zero, my potted plants have sailed through single digit temps. I don't grow many tender perennials. My potted plants are all hardy to about zone 4 and surprise me every year by surviving heat and cold. I expect the annuals and tender herbs to die and just replace them every year. I do take some of the smaller pots and set them inside large empty ones to shelter them a bit, but that's all I do. A good plant to overwinter in a container is marguerites. They are insanely cold resistant up to zone 3. This fall my pots that had annuals will be planted tulips. :o) Once they're done blooming, I just rip them out and replace them with annuals.

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  14. I like that you used a thermometer to test the temperatures of the soil in different types of pots. It shows you are a bit of a scientist at heart. Actually, I am surprised there was no difference. I might have thought that clay pots, which absorb everything it seems, might have cooked the soil just a bit.
    My holding bed is a bit like your plant lab. I mature plants there so they have a better shot at survival when I plant them out in the garden. I also keep a closer eye on these plants. I have one yellow daisy that is very pretty, but it is on probation until I am convinced it is not invasive. (I have been burned so many times by introducing plants I don't know all that well.)
    P.S. I added some blue agastache to my garden after admiring it on your blog. Haven't seen that pink variety just yet. Loving the blue one though.

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  15. Hooray! Agastache 'Blue Fortune' is one of the biggest pollinator attractions in my garden. It also takes heavier soil and more moisture than some of the others. One of the plants in the Plant Lab is headed to the garden this fall while a struggling rose is coming out of the garden and into a pot. I'm hoping that solves its problems. :o)

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  16. I'm digging the ironweed too!

    Other than 'Blue Fortune', which Agastache do you recommend for heavy soil?

    (I've grown a few things in pots, but don't like the idea of buying the bagged potting soil and can't seem to master the art of making potted plants grow well. I tend to do much better with plants in the ground.)

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  17. I have several agastache 'Shades of Orange' that are doing well in the ground, but they need excellent drainage. I amended the soil, raised the bed a bit, and added growers grit to the planting hole to make them happy. It worked really well but it's not available from High Country Gardens right now, which is the company I bought it from.

    Go ahead and buy bagged potting soil. Almost all plants love it because it has a bit of fertilizer and perfect drainage. I buy the moisture retentive soil so I can water a bit less. Sticking regular dirt/soil in a pot doesn't work. In the winter you can mix the used potting soil with compost and add it to your garden beds. I have 55 pots and bought about 100 bags of soil on super clearance this spring. There are peatless types available.

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  18. Ironweed ... way cool !!! Time to hit the books and see if it likes Midwest, Zone 5?

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