YOUR HOMETOWN GARDENER

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery.  Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Last week we did get the rain we needed. Two days of soaking rain with sprinkles and drizzle in between. Now let us hope this gets our wheat out of the ground and germinates cool season forage for our livestock. The ground is still pretty warm, but the air was definitely cold. More rain and even colder air are on tap for this week. Our first hard freeze is predicted. Lows in the mid-twenties? Brrrrrr…

Most Texoma gardeners are moving pots around, getting those tender tropicals in the house, greenhouse, or sun room. Nila and I have a nice southeasterly facing sun room with double paned glass windows. We stopped moving pots full of tropical plants years ago. Too much trouble. We still keep some at the nursery where we have younger folks to help with the work.

Pot culture has its pros and cons like any other gardening culture. For most folks the number one draw is the fact that they can be moved. A shadier location in summer. A warm spot for winter. We can grow tomatoes and peppers all year with supplemental heat and lighting. The fruit set does slow down due to cooler temps and short daylight but it is kinda nice to have some homegrown warm season veg for the holidays.

Running a close second to being portable is the pot itself. The color, texture, and styles can lend a whole new dimension to outdoor or indoor décor. I have always preferred the thick Mexican pottery with heavy glaze. My favorite source for interesting pottery is Posada Pots. You’ll find them west of The Falls out on Seymour Hwy. just east of the Kamay Y (US 82 & FM 258).

Then there is the soil. We can put the rich soil we all wished we had in our gardening areas into the smaller confines of our decorative pots. Good thing too since container grown plants are limited in root space according to pot sizes. Most commercial potting soils are too light for me to recommend. They dry out too quickly and are focused more on drainage than moisture retention. At our nursery we mix mostly compost with sandy loam soils. We grow everything from cacti to tomatoes in this mixture using more compost with tomatoes and less with desert plants. I always get tickled when I see these “specialty” soils sold at higher prices at other gardening stores. Pure bunk in my opinion. Mother Nature has done quite well feeding Her plant kingdom with decomposed organics and minerals from parent rock.

The cramped roots are one of the major drawbacks to pot culture. Truly, there is no such thing as a plant that “does better” in a pot. Compost is the main ingredient of all potting soils regardless of claims stated on packaging. So, what you observe is the plant does respond favorably in the beginning. But, sooner or later, those roots that are designed by Nature to reach out and feed horizontally will turn and coil up. Then you are obliged to find a larger container or study the fine art of bonsai. Unless, you have planted something that just does not get very big in a large enough pot.

The ability to move pots around is also a drawback. Some plants can handle being moved better than others. Some will go into shock. Never lose sight of the fact that plants in the natural world remain rooted into one spot for life. Plants feed on sunlight so moving to less light or into more light will be more or less detrimental. Normally the plant will eventually adjust to new surroundings. Such is the amazing adaptability most plants are capable of. Like I said, some adapt quickly, others don’t. The more extreme the change in light and/or temperatures the more likely you will see signs of stress.

Another drawback we have is insulation. The only thing between the cold air above ground and your all-important root system is the thickness of your pot. Exactly why I favor thick pottery over thinner or plastic “look alike” lightweight pots. Because of the above ground exposure, the pots you leave outdoors can freeze solid where the same plant in the ground will be insulated well. For large pots you want to leave in place some old sheets and blankets can serve you well on those really cold nights. I have good luck using leaves or bags of leaves with loose leaves or mulch on the exposed soil. Cover all sides and top portions.

We have literally thousands of plants in thin plastic pots at Wichita Valley. Each year we mulch everything with chipped wood and loose leaves. We encourage our colleagues in the lawn maintenance biz to bring us all the leaves they rake up. Cold weather has set in early this year and we are getting a late start. Still we have always managed to get things snug before the coldest part of winter sets in. An extended cold spell this early could wreak havoc right now. We just have to hope it doesn’t happen. All forms of agriculture are about hope. Hope it rains. Hope it doesn’t flood. Hope our wheat comes up. Hope our livestock has good pasture. Hope…

We hope you will come see us soon. Get some plants in the ground while good soil moisture is present. Enjoy this fall and winter knowing those roots are growing underground… Where it is warm and moist.

Happy Halloween!!

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