You Can Dig It

The hard lessons learned from 'patriotic planters'

By Jim Janke | Jan 04, 2017
Photo by: Jim Janke

Last year, I replaced the window boxes on our deck railing with a larger size, and was looking for something to do with the old ones. So I grew red, white and blue annuals to attempt to create some “patriotic” containers for our garden.

I chose species I had previously started from seeds with good results — red impatiens, white alyssum and blue lobelia.

Seeds were scattered on top of a peat-based seed-starting mix the seeding flats covered with clear plastic and placed in a tray with a half inch of water.  Germination was good for all three. After good second leaves appeared, they were transplanted to six-packs and grown under fluorescent lights at cool room temperatures.

Lobelias and alyssums were fed every week or so with a half-strength soluble fertilizer; the impatiens seedlings were not fertilized. I

n late April the plants were hardened off by setting them outside for increasing lengths of time over a two week period, then planted in some old window boxes after the chance of frost has passed. The containers received morning and mid-day sun, but shade in the late afternoon.

They were fed monthly with a slow-release fertilizer. Watering chores were minimized because the containers were “sub-irrigated planters” with water reservoirs.


Lessons Learned

— Seeding dates on the seed packets were way off for two of these plants. Starting lobelia Feb. 1 was too early, as by the middle of March the plants were 6- to 8-inches tall and blooming profusely inside. To keep them alive until May, I had to cut them back by more than half. Alyssums were seeded March 1, but grew very slowly; a month earlier would have been better.

— Lobelia bloomed well, but the flowers were small and overwhelmed by the larger impatiens blooms.

— The impatiens variety I chose didn’t like morning sun, resulting in less than perfect flowers, although the plants bloomed continuously all summer.

— All the alyssums died within a couple of weeks after transplanting into the window boxes. They were replaced with white vincas from a local nursery.

— Planting two of each variety in each container resulted in over-crowding. The higher plant density made it difficult to keep up with watering chores, even with self-watering planters

So while my experiment produced acceptable containers, the results were not what I had hoped. If I do this again I’ll probably just buy plants locally instead of raising them from seeds.

The cost would be about the same, yet I’ll know better what the plants will look like compared to just looking at seed catalog pictures.

And I’ll use plants that are close to the same height and have roughly the same flower size, so one variety doesn’t dominate the others.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener wolunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575. © 2017 NC State University.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jan 12, 2017 10:35

Yep, experimentation can be costly. When I was a kid I learned quickly my sire had a learning problem. When he napped or slept, he forgot what he had just learned. Groundhog day every day. So I read every farm magazine I could. As well as scientific journals. We went to local yield contests and as many farm shows as possible. On a small scale we tried different things. Sometimes the gambles paid off. Drilling soybeans required many hours of walking the fields to pull weeds and/or volunteer corn, before herbicides advanced to take care of the problem. Mostly. However. Polk became resistant and one year I had to wallow thru a 200 acre field of mostly irrigated no-till drilled soybeans that were about 6 feet tall in order to eliminate the Polk Berry as much as possible. When a large Polk Berry went thru the twin rotor New Holland combine, it was like a juice bomb going off. What a mess. Those soybeans yielded 85 bushel/acre. Yee-Ha! One spot was way over 100. I had to stop and let the combine catch up. Amazing. As to field corn we were planting 88 to 95 growing degree day corn in the early to mid 60's using clear plow and work up. As the climate changed we adopted to longer growing degree day seed. When I retired in 200, I was using up to 119 growing degree day corn on irrigated ground with humus of 7 to 9 % using no-till except that I applied NH3 pre-plant using a Glenco soil-saver 13 shank chisel plow I had converted to straight point with a double disk closer following, that I had stretched to 21 ft. from 15. It broke up and airated the sticky sandy loam and being pulled at 5 1/2 mph by a 400+ hp Steiger, threw enough dirt that the small weeds were covered which by and large eliminated burn-down of Round-up. The double disk closers pretty much leveled the effect of the 2 1/2 inch chisel. I applied herbicide mixed in the planting fertilizer and sprayed over the row instead of universally, at planting using a 12 row John Deere 7000 planter with opposing double disk in front of the row unit that cleared the "trash" and effectively leveled the area the planting units ran in such that those units hardly moved at all and a very uniform sized population was the result. Plus I planted in the middle of the previous years corn. Followed with a Hiniker no-till cultivator applying more fertilizer and herbicide just over the row. Slick unit. Saved me a bunch. Funny thing I had many people come and look at that planter. All were amazed at the results. I consistently had better stands than my neighbors that used clear plowing. And yields. I even caught one young man in my machine shed taking pictures of the blooming thing, in the middle of the night, even though the opposing disks that made it all work had been on sale, advertised and articles written about for several years before I tried them. Not all "experiments" worked out. Drilled field corn was a no go. Trying to work with someone who could not learn much of anything and was abusive took me over 50 years to finely accept. Moving here was the result.

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