Use of container and raised bed gardens is a practical and ever popular choice with many homeowners. Integrated around your outdoor living areas, they add warmth and character to areas that could otherwise be hard and uninviting. Also, backyards are now typically smaller than years ago; therefore, containers can make an excellent patio garden. They'll add greenery, architectural interest and structure to the patio and around the yard. Container gardens also lend themselves to the renter, as well as the homeowner. Raised bed gardens also add architectural interest and structure to an area and they can also be a practical solution for gardeners with limited mobility.
Container and raised bed gardens can be done in various sizes of areas and pots. In Arizona, automating the irrigation with a loop laser drip system makes them a lot easier to maintain during the summer months than they once were.
When planning a raised bed or container garden, use a good soil mix. A peat moss soilless mix is a poor choice for our Arizona conditions because water wicks out of the soil mix easily. Years ago, I designed a soil mix called "B-2 Mix," especially for our Arizona conditions. Professional horticulturists, landscapers, resorts and hotels have been using this mix for their container pots and raised beds for over 20 years. The mix contains specially acidified mulch, sand and top soil, as well as all the necessary nutrients and a bio-culture containing beneficial soil microbes and has nutrients to feed for 30 to 60 days. This mix is a proven performer, good for flowers, herbs, vegetables and ornamental shrubs.
When designing your floral scheme for pots and raised beds, take into consideration the color of the pot or wall material. Choose complimentary and contrasting colors, textures and heights to add visual boost to the area. Choose plants that cascade out of the pot, compact plants and upright plants to give height variations to the collage. Vines also work well for both the cascading affect, as well as upright with a decorative trellis for adding vertical interest. The mixing of herbs and perennials adds a lot of intense color and fragrance, not to mention butterflies and hummingbirds. Also take into consideration your cover material. Personally, I think raised beds look better with coarse mulch rather than granite. Also, the mulch cools the area and is more appealing to the eye.
These may also be grown in container and raised bed gardens successfully. When planting, take into consideration how big they're going to get at maturity and allow enough room for the plant to grow and develop. If you crowd vegetables they will stunt and not develop properly and give poor yield. Also, consider that the warmer it gets the more area is needed for root development. Roots need lots of soil to keep them cool. Use the "rule of two:" if the plant is 2 feet in diameter, the root system is about double that, or 4 feet in diameter. Crowding plants for visual affect may work in some instances for ornamentals, but for growing vegetables, sufficient root development is key. The more plants in the pot, the more you need to feed because the consumptive use is higher.
Herbs are an excellent choice for containers because they're a small ornamental plant and you can use a variety to compliment each other. Of course, herbs will be more compact when pruning them for their edible qualities. Mixing flowers like lavender, society garlic or nasturtiums (which is also edible) with herbs can be stunning. Reminder: if you have insect problems on your edible plants use organic Neem oil for control.
Type of planter
With so many planter materials available, steer clear of wood planters. Wood swells from the moisture and also gets dry rot, as well as being susceptible to termites, so it's better to go with ceramic, concrete, wall block materials. Sealing wood is not advised because many sealers fume or emit chemicals that suppress the roots. Also, NEVER use railroad ties for planter beds. The creosote in railroad ties is a carcinogenic and can be absorbed by the plants. Also, with pots and raised beds always make a drainage hole and cover the bottom with gravel and use First Step Soil Acidifier to keep salts moving out of the soil when watering.
Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener's World and Gardener's Eden Landscaping in Phoenix, 3401 E. Baseline Road. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit www.gardenpro.net, and for landscaping, visit www.gardenersedenaz.com.