Gardening when short on space

In summer, container plants need watering, fertilising and should be monitored for pests and diseases.
In summer, container plants need watering, fertilising and should be monitored for pests and diseases. Contributed

WE LIVE in an era of the “great shrinking backyard”, where larger and larger houses are having to be accommodated on smaller and smaller blocks of land.

As much as I find McMansions and the like baffling, I'm prepared to accept there are people who don't have access to a backyard.

Whatever space is available, it can be utilised for growing plants. Balconies, courtyards, outdoor entertaining areas, even sunny windowsills, are all suitable. The best way of utilising a compact space is with container plants.

Don't however, fall into the trap of believing that container plants are low maintenance. They're not, and in fact the converse is true. In summer, particularly, they need regular (usually daily) watering, fertilising, and should be monitored for pests and diseases just like any plant.

In autumn and winter, the maintenance requirements lessen considerably. For a start, you can probably get away with less regular watering.

The most common reason container plants die is because the roots get waterlogged. This can be prevented by ensuring the pot has adequate drainage, and by not over-watering.

In winter, outdoor plants might need a drink every few days. Indoor plants might only need watering once per week. If in doubt, poke your finger into the potting mix – if it feels moist, hold off, but if it's dry, give the plant a drink.

The other aspect of pot plant care many people neglect is fertilising. It pays to remember that potting mix is not soil, therefore it contains little in the way of nutri- ents to feed the plant.

These have to be added, and slow-release pellets are usually found in premium quality mixes. Over time though, these lose their potency and it's up to the gardener to fill the breach.

Autumn is an excellent time for fertilising productive pot plants such as citrus, olives and figs. Flowering plants such as chrysanthemums can also do with a boost. Liquid fish emulsion is ideal.

For others, particularly indoor specimens, an application of liquid seaweed extract such as Seasol will help your plants cope with the rigours of winter without stimulating excessive growth.

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