By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
You don’t have to have a very big space to put your green thumb to work.
According to Lauri Inkrott, a Hancock County Master Gardener volunteer, small gardens can be grown just about anywhere from a pot on the patio to a 4-foot-by-4-foot raised bed of soil in the backyard.
“Gardening in a small space has its limits, but it doesn’t have to be limiting,” said Inkrott, who presented “Gardening in Small Places” recently at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.
One of her favorites is a simple plastic tub planted with lettuce seeds that she created for her 83-year-old mother.
“She has always loved plants and fresh vegetables and that, but she can’t do it anymore,” Inkrott said. Just having a small pot of lettuce sitting in her window gives her a lot of joy, she said.
While there are many types of small gardens, Inkrott focused on container gardens and raised bed gardens in her talk. She said a limited space means having to make some choices.
“You won’t be able to grow everything that you love. You’ll need to curb your inclination to go out and buy everything you see out in the nurseries and then assume that you’re going to have a place to put it,” she said.
Function and design
Inkrott advised gardeners to first consider the function and design of their garden.
“Gardens may be a thing of beauty, but they all have inherent function,” Inkrott said. “Do you want to have an edible garden, and that means things like my little lettuce garden or herbs? Do you like to have a tasty juicy tomato that you grew yourself?”
Some gardeners may hope to attract wildlife with their efforts. Inkrott planted a serviceberry tree a few years ago, and within a week of the berries appearing, it was covered by cedar waxwing birds.
Small gardens can add color and interest to a house entrance or accentuate a water feature or statue in the yard.
Once you’ve decided on a function, Inkrott said you need to determine how much money and maintenance time you want to invest. Design and planning will help you capitalize on the space, she said.
Design includes choosing plants that will thrive in the soil and the light conditions for the area, so check the tags on plants at the nursery.
“Take a few days in your garden and really check out what kind of light that particular area gets,” Inkrott said. “Does it get a full six hours of light during the day? Is it only getting morning sun? Is it only getting evening sun? You want to take that into consideration before you ever go to the nursery.”
Inkrott said a simple way to have a small edible garden is to create a raised bed which means growing plants in spaces where the soil surface is higher than the ground level.
“It combines the flexibility of growing edibles in containers with the high yields and more expansive growing space of traditional in-ground vegetable plots. It also provides you with that ‘working the soil’ experience,” she said.
These beds require a special kind of soil mix that is a bit lighter and easier to work with, she said.
“With the raised bed you use the soil mix, so even if your home soil is clay, you can still grow beautiful abundant vegetables,” she said. “You don’t get a lot of weeds. You don’t have to till it. You don’t have to constantly amend the soil every year like you do for a big garden.”
Inkrott said the first step is building or purchasing a kit to build the frame. If using wood, pick something that has not been chemically treated because the chemicals can leach into the soil and ultimately the vegetables.
Cedar wood is the best choice, she said, because it is long-lasting. However, masonry, bricks and metal can also be used.
“A growing trend is using big metal horse troughs. But when you use something like that, you want to make sure that you put holes in the bottom of it because you’ve got to have a way for that water to drain,” she said. “Otherwise it just sits there and gets stagnant underneath.”
Taller growing tables are also available for people who have back problems or are in wheelchairs.
“If you know someone who has enjoyed gardening all of their life, but suddenly because of physical incapability they can’t do the same type of gardening, this is a wonderful way for them to be able to do some gardening,” Inkrott said.
An easy method for gardening in raised beds is through the use of square-foot gardening which was developed in the 1980s by Mel Bartholomew. Inkrott said this method eliminates a lot of the wasteful, inefficient practices of traditional single-row gardening.
Bartholomew found that the 4-foot by 4-foot size box is a good size for the average person who can reach in from all sides, eliminating the need to walk on the soil. For smaller individuals and children, a 3-foot by 3-foot box is recommended. The box only needs to be 6 inches deep for most vegetables, she said. However, for root vegetables like carrots, a deeper 1-foot by 1-foot box can be added.
Inkrott’s first garden was a square-foot garden based on Bartholomew’s book, “Square Foot Gardening.”
A grid marked out with sticks, twine or wooden slats is added to the frame to section off the garden into individual areas measuring 1 square foot each. Single crops are planted in each area which allows for 16 different crops in the box.
The seeds are planted based on the size of the vegetable at maturity, Inkrott explained. Plants placed 3 inches apart are considered small, like onions, radishes and carrots; 16 of these can be planted in one square.
Nine medium plants will fit in an area, placed 4 inches apart. These include bush beans, spinach and beets. Large plants are placed 6 inches apart, four to a square, and include leaf lettuce, chard and marigolds. Finally, extra-large vegetables are placed one plant to a square and include broccoli, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes.
For gardeners who have limited yard space, containers can be used to grow edibles, Inkrott said.
“You can start your seeds early. You can protect your plants very easily because it’s a smaller area. You can throw something over it if we’re going to be getting frost. You can bring things indoors to overwinter them if you have tender annuals,” she said.
Weeds and invasive plants aren’t much of an issue when it comes to container gardening, she added.
“Anything can be used as a container as long as it has drainage holes or you can make drainage holes,” she said. “And if you’re using it for edibles, make sure it’s food safe.”
Naturally occurring soil doesn’t perform the same way in a container as it does in the ground, she noted.
“It is heavy in weight, so it’s not a good option if you’re using large containers that you have to move around because it is heavier,” she said.
Potting soil, which is a mixture of materials such as peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and pine bark, creates a lightweight mix that retains moisture and drains well. Compost can also be blended into the potting soil to add nutrients, said Inkrott.
The soil can be recycled each year, provided there’s no soil-borne diseases in the pots from the year before.
Adding 2 to 3 inches of mulch to the top of the container will keep the water from evaporating as fast and the plant’s roots cool.
“Fertilizer is essential to growing healthy plants in containers. Plants use up minerals in the soil rather quickly especially if the soil is limited volume as it is in a container,” she said. “Fertilizer is like giving them a vitamin to supplement their growth. It replenishes all the vital nutrients essential for productive growth.”
She recommended using granular fertilizer at first, and then liquid fertilizer after the plants start growing.
“And adding compost to your soil in the spring is a great way to fertilize organically,” she said.
The Master Gardeners will present a number of other free programs at the library. The schedule includes: Container Gardens by Ruth Furiate and Noreen Walters, May 5; George Washington Gardening by Christa Gupta, May 19; Roses by Cathy Grossman, June 2; Gardening in the Golden Years by Cheryl Miller, Sept. 15; Flowering Shrubs by Bill Jones, Oct. 6; and wreath making, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 1, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7, and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 9.
Online: http://hancock.osu.edu/topics/master-gardener-volunteer-program Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf