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Learning to Grow: Keep container plants pretty all summer long

Published: Friday, July 11, 2014 4:12 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 11, 2014 4:15 p.m. CDT
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(Provided photo)
Frequent watering can leach out nutrients in container soil, but by using a liquid fertilizer every two weeks, the nutrients can be restored.

You have created the perfect container plantings. They may be a welcoming collection at the front door or splashes of color on the patio or deck.

Now you want to keep them looking gorgeous all summer. We have all experienced the leggy or dead flower stems that start to appear mid to late summer when the temperatures begin to rise. This is the time when your container plants need the most attention.

• Watering. Container soil dries out very quickly. It may be necessary to water every day during hot, dry spells. Test the soil with your fingers and, if the first inch is dry, water until it starts to drip from the drainage hole. Using containers that drain from the bottom allow the roots to breathe and salt build-up to be flushed from the soil.  Water that is rain collected or from a well work best. Avoid using water that has been softened.

• Fertilization. Necessary frequent watering tends to leach out nutrients in container soil. An easy way to replace nutrients is by using a liquid fertilizer every two  weeks following the manufacturer directions.

This should be applied to the soil while it is moist to avoid damaging the plant. This will enhance both plant growth and the rate of flowering.

• Grooming. This can consist of pinching and deadheading. Pinching is the practice of removing the top of a plant when it becomes leggy to allow it to maintain a certain shape and to keep the growth in check. Some annuals that benefit from pinching include pansy, petunia, and snapdragon. Deadheading refers to the removal of dead flowers to promote more blooms, to clean up the appearance of the plant, and to prevent disease. Annuals that require deadheading include marigold, geranium, zinnia, dahlia, and gaillardia. Some plants, such as the begonia, are “self-cleaning” and do not require removal of dead flowers.

If you continue to water, fertilize and groom throughout the growing season, you can expect your container plants to flourish and bloom well into the fall.

Take a picture of your creations every year so you can look back and enjoy!
• Darlie Simerson is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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