Two peas in a pot: How to become a plant parent in a small space
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It seems everyone has one thing in common throughout the pandemic: learning new things. For many, that new hobby has been gardening or growing plants.
Not only does the timing work out since stay-at-home orders have lasted through the spring, but adding a plant to your space brings literal life to the room. When spending weeks on end in the same space, especially a small one, a few plants can go a long way.
Allison Mecklenburg, a Colorado Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Extension office, works for a landscaping company in Steamboat Springs and said many nurseries and wholesale plant suppliers have been sold out of plants for a few weeks. A Washington Post article said a Missouri-based seed company was filling nearly twice as many orders as it typically does in peak spring season.
Anyone can become a plant parent. It isn’t a hobby left to those with large yards who have been doing it for years. With a little bit of effort, even a beginner gardener with a small deck or sunny window can make the right plants happy.
Hayden resident and Colorado Master Gardener Festus Hagins thinks nobody should be intimidated by gardening.
“Pick up a gardening book. Something simple. Start reading about how to garden and start small,” he said. “If you have a failure, it’s not the end of the world. If something dies, just say, ‘OK that didn’t’ work, I’m going to go on to this one and try this.’”
Succulents: Succulents are trendy and perhaps talked about too often, but they are popular for a reason: they’re extremely easy to care for. As an added benefit, succulents and cacti come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
“Truly, for the beginner and for some people who don’t know where to start, that’s a great start,” said Mecklenburg. “They can take a lot of abuse, but if you give them a little bit of extra love, they really take off. I think that’s a great place to start to see how plants grow and what type of light they respond to.”
Aloe vera is an easy-to-grow, large succulent that can help relieve summer sunburns and can even be used to make homemade hand sanitizer.
Snake plant: Even those who totally lack a green thumb can manage to keep a snake plant alive. The yellow-and-green-leaved plants prefer sunlight, but can survive with less exposure. If you forget to water it for weeks, it’s not the end of the world. Snake plants aren’t picky, so long as they aren’t being overwatered.
Spider plants: Like the snake plant, spider plants are rugged and hard to kill. All they need to keep producing thier striped, thin leaves is indirect sunlight and well-drained soil.
Growing vegetables has an additional benefit over a simple houseplant: you can eat them. While many vegetables require open soil to root in, there are a few that will be plenty happy in a planter. In a state like Colorado with a long winter, it’s important to grow things with a short growing season.
“I encourage everyone to give it a try,” said Hagins. “Once you’ve tasted a vegetable you’ve grown, you’re so proud. I grew that. I have this, and I have more.”
Tomatoes: Tomatoes will have no issues growing in a pot, so long as they get plenty of sun and support. Physical support that is. Make sure to provide the plant with a tomato cage, plant support or a simple stake to help the vines hold the weight of the tomatoes.
Also, tomatoes don’t like cold, so while they can soak up the sun on the deck all day, they probably shouldn’t be left outside overnight, particularly in the spring and early summer.
Leafy greens and herbs: Plants like lettuce, arugula, cilantro and basil are easy to grow and can handle a little bit of cold. Microgreens, the first two leaves off a sprouting seedling, are popular as well.
- Colorado’s climate is dry, so make sure your plants get enough water.
- Don’t overwater.
- Don’t be afraid to prune something that gets out of hand.
- Take notes if you can.
“Those can be grown from seed to green in 20 days and you can do those in almost any windowsill no matter how much light you have,” said Mecklenburg.
Peas: Mecklenburg, who’s lived in apartments with no outdoor space for years, is using her porch rungs to trellis peas that are growing out of a window box. Peas prefer the cooler weather of spring to grow and stop producing when it gets too warm.
Find the right container
With no yard or garden to plant in, small space gardeners rely on pots and planters to house their veggies and flowers.
Clay pots are widely accepted as an excellent home for most plants. They hold large plants well and are porous, which keeps plants from developing root rot from too much moisture. However, they are quite heavy and break pretty easily. The alternative is a plastic pot, which is easy to clean, and retains water well. For plants that spend a lot of time outside, a plastic container is best. No matter the material, just make sure there is a drainage hole to allow excess water to escape.
For herbs and leafy greens, a container with a lot of surface space like a window box or a barrel, is ideal.
Hagins said he loves finding unique containers to plant his vegetables in from thrift stores or yard sales.
“When I go places, I’m thinking gardening,” said Hagins. “What can I grow in here? What can I do with this?”
Colorado State University Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CSU Extension office at 970-879-0825 and ask to leave a message for the Master Gardeners. Thursday morning office hours and scheduled site visits are currently suspended.
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