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"There is a garden in her face, Where roses and white lilies grow; A heavenly paradise is that place, Wherein all pleasant fruits do grow." THOMAS CAMPION, "Cherry Ripe."
A few tough varieties like sansevierias and zebrina may be grown for a time in soil in bowls or metal cans without a drainage hole; but most plants dwindle and die when no provision is made for surplus water to escape. The hole at the bottom of a flowerpot is essential, for nearly all plants need soil that is damp and actually wet only for a few minutes after each watering.
Escaping water carries with it through the drainage hole many of the finer particles of soil unless we place some pieces of broken flowerpots over the hole to keep it back. The gardener calls these pieces of broken flowerpots "crocks"; they come mostly from the sides of old pots. To hold back the soil further and yet allow water to escape, a handful of sphagnum moss or peat moss may well go on top of the crocks.
New flowerpots are surprisingly expensive; the reason is that in retail quantities, necessitating frequent handling, the fragile burnt clay readily breaks. Despite elaborate packing, many fracture in transport. And they are heavy, making transportation costs high compared to the original cost. So save all the pots you can.
Old pots are as good as new ones if they are soaked and scrubbed. Many find their way to the town dump; contact someone who has the concession to search the area for salvage, and he will sell you quite a few for a dollar. Canvass your neighbors, also; there are old pots in the average garage or shed that can probably be yours for the asking. Save the broken ones to use for crocks. If you buy new pots, soak them for a day; let them drain and dry before using.
Flowerpots 6 inches in diameter or larger may be too big for convenient handling when containing soil. Half-high ones, called azalea pots, may be used for most plants. Fortunately, nearly all house plants prefer that their roots be restricted.
If pots are too hard to get or too expensive, empty coffee cans, cracker boxes, or oil cans boiled clean with sal-soda may be made to serve. So will evaporated-milk cans, soup cans and vegetable cans when opened with the device, found in most kitchens nowadays, that turns a neat fold in the rim. With an awl punch a number of drainage holes in the bottom from the inside out. Enlarge the holes with a screw driver, and rub down the ragged edges with carburundum or a file. Place the lid in the bottom of the can to serve as a crock. Flat tuna-fish cans, meat-paste cans and the like will serve as saucers. After the labels are soaked off, the homely look of the outside of the can may be transformed with white paint.
When you buy pots, get some saucers to fit; the usual size is the same as that of the pot. A 4 1/2 inch pot indicates the inside measurement at the top, and it stands well in a 41-inch saucer (also inside diameter). A suitable size of china saucer may be used instead, but use low-cost ones-the harsh clay pottery may scratch your family heirlooms.
But the best saucer is the small pyrex glass dish used for desserts, obtainable at the hardware store and fairly cheap. It is best because it admits light, and in the window garden every fragment of light that gets past the first row of pots and saucers helps the plants behind them.
Some bulbs may be grown readily in bowls or jardinieres without drainage-especially narcissus, daffodil and hyacinth-the larger and quicker kinds being the more suitable. They are not planted in soil, but in shell fragments, pebbles, Vermiculite or sand. The container is partly filled with the growing medium, the bulbs are placed in position, and additional amounts of the material are added nearly to fill the bowl. Enough water is poured in to maintain a depth of i inch; check the quantity every few days by tilting the container. Some water must show itself when you do this, because once the bulb dries it is ruined. It is desirable, but not essential, to keep the bulbs cool and in the dark for a month, or until top growth begins, when they may be brought into the light and warmth; from now on the containers should be half-full of water. If you have a garage, the darkness may be obtained by standing them on the floor and covering them with overturned boxes. In a garden they are often stood in a footdeep trench and covered with leaves. Should neither garage nor garden be available, keep them for a few weeks in a cool closet.
Instead of pebbles, shell fragments, sand or Vermiculite, damp peat moss may be used as a planting material for bulbs and kept damp by adding water every few days, sparingly when first planted, freely when growth begins.
Instead of peat moss you may wish to make up a material similar to many offered as "bulb fiber." Here is a good formula:
4 parts by measure of peat moss
2 parts Vermiculite
2 parts oyster shells, the size fed to adult poultry
1 part charcoal, the size fed to baby chicks
Obtain the first two from any garden supply store, the last two from a pet shop.
Discard the bulbs after flowering for they will be of little value another season. Bulb fiber or peat moss may be allowed to dry and kept until you next need potting soil, when it may be used to replace the humus and peat moss.
Hyacinths and some suitably shaped narcissus and daffodil bulbs may be grown in water only, similar to hyacinths.
When growing plants in flowerpots in soil with a drainage hole, moderate amounts Of 5-10-5, 8-6-2 or similar fertilizer may be given from time to time when the soil is moderately dry. Liquid manure may be applied, but not for bulbs growing in pebbles, shell fragments, Vermiculite or bulb fiber. Give no fertilizer when growing plants in containers without a drainage hole. If you are applying powdered fertilizer to plants in pots, use just enough and no more barely to whiten the soil; roughen and turn the surface to a 1/2 inch depth with an old table fork; then water the plant. Hoeing with the fork is helpful even when fertilizer is not being applied, just as hoeing alongside a plant in the garden gives you better flowers or vegetables. Powdered fertilizer may be applied in this way at two-week intervals.
Although bulbs growing in containers without a drainage hole should not be fed in this way as a general rule, they may be if you purchase a type of plant food that is suitable for chemical gardening or hydroponics. This is a phase of horticulture (see Chapter 8) in which all kinds of plants may be grown without soil. Bulbs in pebbles, shell fragments, et cetera, may be started with plain water; the moisture supply may be kept at the proper level, or the usual degree of dampness maintained by adding small quantities of the dilution of the plant food advised by the manufacturers. Be sure to use in this way only chemical plant foods specifically offered for gardening without soil.
Pots may be of the regular baked clay, which is porous and for this reason helpful to plants. There is some objection to painting them; but if white is the color of your paint it will help with the supply of light in your room garden; and although the pots are not porous any more, the paint having sealed the pores through which some air got to the roots, the extra light outweighs the disadvantage of loss of porosity.
Decorative pots of glazed pottery are not porous either, but they are almost equally suitable, provided they are made with a drainage hole. The two-tier self-watering type is recommended.
A spun-glass wick comes with the pot to be threaded through the drainage hole, with one end in the potting soil and the other in a reservoir of water carried in the lower half of the combination. Moisture rises in the wick, keeping the earth damp, and we have a watering system that plants like because it is close to nature. Outdoor gardeners realize that the natural way for a plant to feed is by the absorption of moisture from below, much as a tree absorbs it during dry weather. Rain helps the tree, not so much by feeding it directly, but by maintaining a zone of moisture in the soil; the dampness rises from below by capillary action, and the fine roots of the tree absorb it.
A self-watering flowerpot with a water reservoir at the bottom and a glass bowl on top is excellent for African violets, ferns and other plants that need an extra-moist atmosphere. It is good also for rooting in sand or sandy soil a few cuttings.
Self-watering plant boxes or window boxes are also very helpful. They are built along the same lines: a reserve of water in a double bottom is maintained by adding more every few days through an opening at the ends, and the moisture is carried up by means of a wick. The room gardener can use these self-irrigating boxes with advantage to grow plants, as well as to root cuttings, for on a radiator they become excellent propagating boxes.
These are highly effective when hung in a window or an enclosed porch. Frames may be purchased at the larger florists; about 12 inches or more in diameter, they are made of wire and are suspended by four wires.
Line them with sphagnum moss, rammed tight; fill with potting soil to which 25 per cent additional peat moss has been added; soak in water for an hour and drain. Next day put in your plants. Festooning plants, like various ivies, are good; so also are trailing fuchsias, balcony petunias, periwinkles, strawberry begonias and the like.
Should they become dry you will have to plant them again. So give them a ten-minute soaking every few days and a daily spraying with plain water. Provision must be made to catch dripping water; pans of gravel and charcoal under them is one method.