Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Plant Lab


I have a secret: I may be a science teacher but I'm not a scientist and I find this bothersome. Of course just the idea of me in a lab conjures up images of broken glass, equipment in flames, and maybe if I'm really lucky, several small explosions. 


In order to satisfy my desire for experimentation, I refer to my container garden as Pottersville - The Plant Lab. Sometimes the results are beautiful. But sometimes they aren't.


Many of my ideas fall into this category.


I have yet to figure out what I've done to make this 'Georgia Peach' heuchera so miserable. It's currently lurking near the deutzia in hopes of achieving the perfect sun/shade combo. It's coming out of the pot this fall and going into the ground.

Scientific Observation: My plant looks like a nuclear fallout survivor.
Scientific Conclusion: Whatever I'm doing, just stop, and prepare for revenge.


Scientific Observation: Happy sedum
Scientific Conclusion: Do not come near this plant. It's fine without me. 


Scientific Observation: Unhappy sedum
Scientific Conclusion: It didn't like our cool, wet early summer and may be pot bound. Or may look bad out of pure spite. Hard to tell.


Scientific Observation: If I barely even touch this weird plant, the stems break off. I can't tell if it's happy, unhappy, or just messing with my head.
Scientific Conclusion: I'm leaving it alone.


Scientific Observation: This 'Sour Grapes' penstemon stopped blooming in the garden and looked weird in its pot last summer. I moved it to a bigger pot with less fertile soil and it looks better, but still hasn't bloomed.
Scientific Conclusion: I am more stubborn than my penstemon and I will wait with ninja-like patience for it to bloom.



My Plant Lab often features lots of perennials that have been stuffed into pots while I learn how to make them happy or decide if I want to keep them. I stuck some homeless 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies in a pot with double white balloon flowers, hoping they'd bloom at the same time. Of course, they didn't and I can't stand how blah this pot is. If this planting were food, it would be cold meatloaf. Ick. 

Scientific Observation: I love the balloon flowers but am tired of the daylilies.
Scientific Conclusion: They might both go into the main garden this fall while I stick something more colorful in this pot.


Scientific Observation: Pretty, but will be prettier in the garden.
Scientific Conclusion: Stick something more colorful in this pot. Think drag queens, darling, not tea cozies.


Scientific Observation: This 'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle looks cool growing out of this pot.
Scientific Conclusion: Leave it alone but keep it pruned to maintain its shape.


Scientific Observation: This liatris spicata was floppy in the garden and is almost as floppy in the pot. I'm tired of floppy. I want it more erect.
Scientific Conclusion: Maybe it needs more sun. Maybe it's just a flopper. But maybe it needs a hot date to help it along. 




My pot of pink and white gomphrena with 'Blue Daze' evoluvus is one of my favorites.


Scientific Observation: The contrast of the gomphrena against the soft feathery cosmos makes me happy.
Scientific Conclusion: Plant this again next year. 


Scientific Observation: The basil is fabulous.
Scientific Conclusion: Grow basil in this pot every year until you die. 



Scientific Observation: It is possible to grow dwarf hydrangeas on my porch steps, especially when I remember to water them.
Scientific Conclusion: Remember to water them!



Scientific Observation: My 'Peach Sorbet' blueberry is thriving in this pot.
Scientific Conclusion: Don't take it out of this pot. Ever.



Scientific Observation: Happy sedum 
Scientific Conclusion: Your other sedum hates you.

56 comments:

  1. I am rubbish at throwing out dead plants. If there is just a glimmer of green then I re-pot them in the hope of a miracle. I did that with some leggy violas who were really past their best and the results were very interesting. The whole sample was randomly divided between small pots and one large pot. In the small pots there was only a limited space for new soil, while the large pot consisted of virtually all new soil. Any hypothesis coming yet? Well those selected for the small pots continued in their decline and are now dried up sticks, while those in the large pot look like new plants. Bright, fresh flowers on firm green stems. So, Tammy, what would a scientist conclude from that?

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    1. I would conclude they needed more room/moisture and if your soil was enriched with fertilizer, then that gave it an extra boost. Very few plants do well in small pots.

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  2. Plants in pots... mine always look out-of-place and out-of-sorts... Your happy sedums make me wanna keep trying... because mine always just look sullen. Do you have advice?

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    1. Keep trying! I have 68 pots and some host the same plants every year, while others get new tenants each spring. It's a great way to learn what each plant wants. I think my unhappy sedum are pot bound and will be happier in the ground. I use moisture retentive potting soil and lots of liquid kelp to replace any fertilizer that's leached out of the bottom. I also put worms in the pots that hold perennials to help fertilize the soil.

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  3. Overall they all look really good. It's so weird but this year I pretty much have let one of my pot plants die. We had so much rain I just forgot to water the plant under the overhang that doesn't get the rain.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I have a pot like that, too. I have to remind myself to keep it watered.

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  4. If my plants look bad I put them in my greenhouse to be in wet and warm atmosphere.Your pottered plants need more water, except cactus. They look nice, I love blueberry, sedums,hydrangea and cosmos!

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    1. I really love those blueberries, too. They were bred to grow in pots. Sometimes my perennials become pot bound, so they end up looking a bit ragged. The ugly sedum just needed drier weather and space in the garden.

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  5. I think we had the same science professor! What was his name again?
    It's just the luck of the draw sometimes with some plants. What may be thriving at a neighbour's house or the plant nursery just hate being in our gardens.
    Over the years I've learned that certain plants don't like me like the Peace Lily and Ficus. They always croak at my house. I therefore admire from afar.

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    1. I always want to know WHY a plant either thrives or dies. Sometimes I never find the answer, which really bugs me. Like life, it's all just a giant experiment.

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  6. Anymore in my gardens I'm settling for "Look! It's still HERE this morning!" *sigh* Yesterday, amid neighborhood barking dogs and folks in their yards, a doe brought 2 fawns into the lawn and ignored everything, like they owned the place. Grrr.

    Thanks for thinking of me and the wonderful 'garden love'. It probably does more good than the doctors are doing at this point. :-/ I'm holding in there ... if at a much subdued level. Kinda down, but certainly not out. :-D Yay for blogger buddies!

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    1. PS what is that pure white blossom? Is that some kind of double balloon flower?? *lust*

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    2. It's 'Hakone White' balloon flower. I like the doubles more than the singles. It's going into the garden with my other balloon flowers this fall. :o) I need more color in my pots so I'll probably end up filling that spot with annuals.

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  7. I loved reading through this post... sounded like me writing it! Its so true that we don't always share the unsuccessful experiments... I will try to more often. They certainly happen to me too. Love the pots and the gomphrena. I do not know it at all and your so right the combination of the pompom flower and then the cosmos disk and airy is beautiful.

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    1. When people read my blog, I want them to take away a feeling of authenticity, not superficial perfection so I show the everything from the good to the downright hideous. I'm suspicious of perfect gardens!

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  8. Dear Professor Tammy,
    In terms of the flowerless Penstemon, your observations seem to have missed a culprit: dogus vulgaris. I thought I caught a glimpse of the working bits of said creature near the pots. It has long been my theory that animals (including humans) can be stressors when interacting with the plant world.
    However I do admire your pot lab, and your methods appear to be adequate. Beware of the floppers and the passive-aggressive types; they'll frustrate you and sap your energies. I salute you. Carry on.

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    1. Dear Emily,

      I blame everything on the headless dog. As for the flopper, there's a little blue pill for that. ;o)

      Tammy

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  9. Thanks for featuring your pot plants! You are so kind to keep giving opportunities for growth to plants that others would be finished with. Must be the teacher thing - always hoping for the best. (I think there are sometimes just bad plants!)

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    1. No Plant Left Behind is my motto. I just can't help but think with enough accommodations, they can all achieve fabulousness. But the slackers get the boot and I make sure they're pointy. :o)

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  10. Gardening as science project --- and it's still erratically mystifying! I have found with some plants that they just want to be in the ground. Whatever fungi and nematodes and squigglies are in the soil, it needs them, and no amount of potting mix and fertilizer can provide it. Others do fine in the rarefied world of the container, as your successes show.

    Love your Peach Sorbet (My Jelly Bean dwarf blueberry is looking just like it, very healthy). And the pretty honeysuckle in a pot is a keeper!

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    1. I totally agree about some plants just needing everything that regular garden soil offers. I'm convinced my 'Georgia Peach' will come around once it gets in the ground. Honeysuckle in a pot seems pretty insane, but I think it's going to be a winner.

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  11. I have mixed success with container plantings and I sometimes think it is even more difficult than growing things in my main garden. For one thing pots can dry out so quickly (especially if you are prone to forgetting to water them). Like you, I experiment every year. One day I hope I will figure out what works best.

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    1. I water pots A LOT! But I use moisture retentive potting soil and only put xeric plants in the smaller pots. Bigger pots stay moist longer. I don't use any terracotta pots. They are like water vacuums. Ceramic pots stay moist longer.

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  12. Your plant laboratory was educational and entertaining! I've got a purple Heuchera that is suffering from the same thing as your Georgia Peach, and was just thinking it needed to exit the pot ASAP. Do you recall the name of those gomphrena? I grew some "Fireworks" from seed this year, and while they did fine, I think they may be too tall. I like the look of yours.

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    1. They are Buddy Purple and Buddy White. They should be easy to find in cheapo six packs in the spring. Butterflies/pollinators love the purple ones but ignore the white ones. I think they're hard for them to see. But I love how they look together. I grew 'Fireworks' once, too, and they kept flopping because they were so tall.

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  13. In my scientific plant growing world I have learned to stay away from growing anything in pots. You have many many pots. Many successful pots. I think that is all I need to say.

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    1. 'Stick it in a pot' is usually my answer for everything! It's often successful, but not always. Sometimes the pot is just a temporary space until I can figure out how to make the plant happy or find a spot for it in the garden. Sometimes it feels like I'm running a plant hotel.

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  14. Can I have that pot to grow my basil in?

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    1. I almost threw that pot away! It's actually a black pot that would overheat and fry everything I stuck in it. I spray painted it with primer and then blue paint and now I love it. I've discovered basil does best when it has it's own space and doesn't have to share root space or fertilizer with any other plants. It's a bit of a hog.

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  15. The pots are always beautiful......just wish my plants would behave better:) I do the same thing. I experiment with plants and people ask why it takes me so long to make a decision about placing something into the ground or pot.....I don't like wasting money:) But it's fun to try anyway.....I do love your experimentation. It's what gardeners do best:)

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    1. I agree! Sometimes I buy a plant but I'm not sure where I'm going to put it so it just hangs out in Pottersville until there's a vacancy in the garden. Experimentation is the best way to learn more about plants, anyway. :o)

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  16. Hi Tammy, that's some very Sherlock Holmes-type reasoning and deduction there! I have things in pots because either they wont fit in the garden, they're tender and need to come in for the winter or I'm just too lazy to take it out of the pot I bought it in. Mainly it's because the garden is out of room. The patio looks like the pot-version of the Heathrow Airport aircraft sky holding pattern on a long bank holiday with one runway down.

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    1. You are so funny! My conclusions are super scientific, aren't they? It's amazing science labs aren't beating down my door to hire me to break equipment and blow stuff up. I have about 68 pots. They are my addiction. I use the pots as an extension of the main garden, which is a just a giant experiment, anyway. :o)

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  17. I loved this post, Tammy. I do this kind of thing all the time with my plants - and I so identify with the "keep it in this pot forever" kind of comments. Sadly, the plants often don't come to the same conclusion. Your red sedum looks just like mine. I think they hate us. Red sedums seem much more malicious than green or yellow ones. I do like the way you include cartoons, especially that first one.

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    1. Purple or red sedum can be fussy and hateful. I'm just waiting for one of those stems to reach out and slap me as I pass.

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  18. Love these conclusions...now if I could only go around and make some serious observations and stick to them...sigh! That sedum and basil are spectacular.

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    1. I keep a Word document on my computer where I write down notes for each season. I refer back to this in the fall and spring so I can make the changes required. One year, it was 10 pages long! I had horrible basil last year. It was getting reflected heat from an exterior window and had to share pot space with several other plants. It much prefers to have it's own pot. The urn works well for it since it puts down deep roots. :o)

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  19. Hi Tammy, entertaining, funny, clever and interesting post. Oh, and did I mention, I really liked it? I don't pot much because you have to water them and I forget. But there are certainly plants in the garden that love me and others that hate me heaps.

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    1. Thanks! I have an entire section of my garden that sadistically uses me as its plaything. Just when I think I've figured out what plants will survive there, they wilt, refuse to bloom, and look wretched. But I think I've found its weak spot and have a list of plants to add this fall that may actually thrive there. If they die, I'm replacing them with plastic tulips.

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  20. I love your scientific experiments and observations! You have such outstanding things happening in your lab! Seriously!!! Loving that bloom of your balloon flower and holy cow is that pot of pink and white gomphrena AMAZING!!! So many pretty things happening all over the place here Tammy!!!

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    1. Gomphrena is pure amazingness. Gotta get some!

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  21. Yep. I am not a scientist or science teacher but I have the same observations and conclusions that you do, especially with the sedums. However, in all seriousness (and I haven't read all of the comments so if this has already been mentioned, my apologies) your heuchera could be suffering from root weevils. At this point they are adult weevils now but when they were larvae they were small, white, C-shaped worms. They love to eat the roots of heuchera. I have lost many of mine. If you'd like more info, just holler. Sorry I've been away from your blog for so long. I hope you're having a great summer.

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    1. I hadn't thought of that. It will be interesting to see what's lurking in that pot when I transplant this in the fall. I'd love more info.

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  22. Tee hee. I have some of those "cold meatloaf" pots, too, and I've been debating what to do with them. I hate to throw out pots, but maybe I could paint them. Gosh, you have a great collection of Sedums! I'm always amazed at your container plantings--you have a talent for potted plants!

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    1. I actually like the pot. I'm just tired of the boring planting combo. I'm plotting to give the Stella D'Oro to a friend who's taking several other daylilies that I decided to dig up the other day and stick a cheap, colorful annual in its space.

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  23. You truly are a nutty professor - I love your hilarious scientific conclusions - don't worry I'm sure most of us have the same problems - it's all a game of trial and error.

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    1. Thanks! I just wish my plants could talk. It would make everything so much easier, at least for a few minutes. :o)

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  24. Like everyone else, I really liked this post!

    The cartoon up front made me smile and was a nice appetizer.

    And the main course -- all your potting experiments -- was a hoot.

    Like Patty who commented above, I'm not much of a pot-gardener. I have much better success in the ground, but I admire and respect your achievements, particularly with the balloon flower and the honeysuckle.

    I do have to check out that gomphrena...

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    1. Gomphrena is a real keeper. Love that plant! Plus, it's a cheap annual so it's easy to work into the budget every year. What's weird is that my honeysuckle doesn't have any fragrance and the hummingbirds are ignoring it. I have no explanation for that.

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  25. Humorous post as always. It would seem since everyone is potted they would fare better, at least until planting time. Usually potted plants suffer from too much water if there is any problem, then get diseased as a result. Maybe they are just toying with you.

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    1. They are toying with me. I hear them snicker when I pass. The sedum just needed more sun and heat. It's already perked up and was practically cheering when the temps hit 100.

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  26. You have what? 68 pots? (What?!) I have, let's see, maybe six. Are you familiar with the expression, "gone to pot?" Really it seems like most of your pots are doing really great, and I must admit that I am in the early stages of more-pot-ness, which is to say I WANT to have more pots. I love moving them around like furniture. This is new for me but I'm working through it, may need your help later... So pleased to see you use fun real science instead of that other kind--works for me!

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    1. I have heard the phrase gone to pot and may use it as a post title someday. Thanks for the reminder. :o) Pots allow me to expand my garden and they're pretty so I'm a total sucker for them. I have stairs that lead from my kitchen to the patio so of course I have to have pots going down them. Then I have the pots I grow my veggies in. Plus, I have pots between the edge of the patio and the grass. Then there's the front porch....

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  27. Hi Prof! Came to you via Sinil's Garden. Sedum........ never water mine, ever. Got them and similar in pots and this year they are storming! I started to put them in my pots because everything else failed eventually (I am a lazy gardener and do not water unless absolutely necessary) I just dot them around in groups of 3 (always odd numbers for beauty's sake). Put 'em in the sun and leave well alone! Enjoy your posts.

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    1. Thanks! Mother Nature gets all the credit, or blame, for torturing the sedum. Plus, the non-blooming penstemon was shading it a bit. I scolded the penstemon, pulled the sedum into more sun and then it was hot and sunny for two weeks. It's much improved but I thought it was acting like a weenie for giving up so easily. I think it mumbled something about needing more space so into the garden it will go. If it starts whining again next year, it's getting the axe!

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  28. Tammy, love your assessments of the containers. I have a 'Major Wheeler' that I had to cut almost to the ground to get the trellis off of it. I then put a larger trellis (tuteur) for it to grow on....one that is about 6 or 7 feet tall. It is covering said structure. Those honeysuckle will go gangbusters.
    We have had so much rain any assessment of my containers would be horrific. (Especially the one the dog pees on/in all the time...geraniums don't live if they are watered with urine).

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