Green places in small spaces

Perennials on the patio

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— You really want a garden but don't have a yard in which to plant one? Not to worry. If you have a balcony, rooftop or patio any sort of outdoor space that gets pretty good sunshine you can have a garden.

Many types of containers work well be creative: a half-whiskey barrel, a large redwood or cedar planter, an old tin watering can or a galvanized iron tub, even a couple of old tires stacked one on the other will do just fine. Drainage is the important feature. Drill or punch several drainage holes in the bottom of your chosen holder. Trellises add another fun opportunity for vertical visibility on the patio. Use them for tomatoes or roses.

Elevate the container (before filling) using three or four bricks or stepping-stones under it to provide a channel for the water to drain. Fill the bottom of the container with about 2 inches of gravel or other material about the same size to insulate the drainage holes from the potting soil and to make sure they don't get clogged. In a tub or bucket mix up a growing medium of three parts potting soil, two parts vermiculate and one part sphagnum moss.

This gives you a growing medium that has some organic matter and won 't get hard and compacted. Sprinkle a couple handfuls of phosphate fertilizer over the soil and cover with another inch of your soil mix.

You are now ready to plant bulbs (fall) or seeds (spring) or plants (spring, summer and fall).

When you are planning your patio garden, choose some plants for each pot that will trail or cascade over the side. Some good ones are ivy geraniums, lobelia, alyssum and petunias. After that go wild!

Sometimes it is fun to combine flowers and vegetables. Red loose-leaf lettuce looks good with almost any flower. Try putting parsley in every planter. The curly variety sets off the flowers perfectly and you will have plenty to cook with.

Many of our favorite perennial plants can be grown successfully on the patio but choose hardy varieties to get started. Aguilegia (columbine), our state flower, is my favorite. Other perennials that do well are coral bells, delphinium and foxgloves. The key to having attractive containers is putting the plants closer together and fertilizing and watering them more often. It may be necessary to use a water-soluble chemical fertilizer. The problem with pots is that every time you water them, some nutrients wash out. Use the fertilizer at one-half prescribed strength about once a week and your flowers will thrive.

These are some ideas to get you started. Be creative and don't forget to intersperse annuals among your patio perennials.

Kathy Conlon is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions may be submitted directly to Master Gardeners at 879-0825 or e-mailed to gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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