Building Raised Planter Beds

With all the pandemic caused emphasis on home improvement, this would have been a good article to write a year ago.  Better late than never.  As usual, wanting to advise others comes as a result of mistakes I have made, some of which are described below.

Size:  Length can be whatever you want.  Width, however, should be no more than 4 feet.  I have 3 beds that are 5 feet by 8 feet and it is difficult to do any work near the center of the beds.  The one 4 footer is so much easier.  The walls of my beds are made with three 2 x 6’s, so they are about 18 inches high.  Now that I think of it, 24 inches would have been much better in terms of having to bend over less.  But then, I think proportions look better at 18”—you gotta look good even if it’s painful.  The higher you raise the box, the stronger the support needed to keep boards from bowing out if they are long.  People use raised beds to make tending them easier and to create an enclosure for the new improved soil that can be brought in that, hopefully, plants will love.  Most people find that a bed 10 or 12 inches high works well for them—not so much for growing tomatoes which are best planted 18 inches down.

Materials:  Most people use wood.  Redwood is probably the best.  When you are picking out your 2-by boards, try to find those that have the most heartwood.  The reddish heartwood is far more resistant to rot than the pale sapwood.  Cedar is another good choice.  Pressure treated wood is more controversial.  No arsenic has been used in this wood since 2003-4.  Currently 2 different copper compounds are used and although no traces of these chemicals have been found in either soil or vegetables, pressure treated wood is not recommended for planter boxes in which food is grown.  You can alleviate you fears by lining the box with heavy plastic—say 6 mil.  You can also seal the box with paint or another kind of sealer.  One caution—avoid breathing the dust when cutting pressurized wood.  Wear a mask.  I know you know how to do that.  More expensive, but far more durable is construction with masonry.  There are all kinds of attractive alternatives here.  The drawback is that you have to lean over farther to work with your plants and the material is not gentle on elbows and knees

Misc.  Plan ahead and bring irrigation lines up into the box.  Cover the bottom with hardware cloth—you know, the substantial ¼” wire mesh, to keep varmints out.  A layer of weed cloth will also discourage the invasion of roots from a nearby tree.  Trust me—tree roots will love the great soil and water you have provided.  If you are using wood, consider installing flat boards on the top edges for ease of sitting.  Don’t just use screws to hold lumber together.  Use lag screws, or better yet, use bolts with washers.  If using lag screws, predrill to prevent splitting.  You can attach a band of copper mesh around the outside to keep snails and slugs out—but not earwigs.  Finally, as you can see below, if you use treated posts, you have to add preservative, sealer, or a cap to cuts that have exposed untreated interior areas.

In-box irrigation
In-box irrigation

Rotting post
Rotting post

Copper mesh prevents slugs
Copper mesh

Post cap
                        Post cap

Why does most of my learning have to come at the expense of mistakes I have made?

Stan, The Blog Man

Potty Talk

I knew that title would get your interest.  Now that I have you, let me tell you about something I learned about replanting potted plants.  LaVille and I learned this while watching Gardener’s World on Prime Video.  It seems so simple, that I am almost embarrassed not to have known of it before.  When you are transplanting a potted plant either into a larger pot or into the ground, dig your hole, and then place the entire pot into the hole.  Adjust for height and add soil around the pot.  Firm it up.  Lift the pot and its plant out of the soil.  Pop the plant out of its pot and drop it into the perfectly formed hole.  If the plant is so overgrown that it interferes with packing soil around it, first remove the plant from the pot, set it aside, and use the empty pot to form the new hole.  For better growth results LaVille always adds Sure Start to the hole.

I hope you will remember this technique the next time you do your planting.  It is really efficient and effective.

Stan

Dippity Do Da

Every now and then I get a good idea.  I think the last time was June 14, 2005.  This new idea cannot be claimed as my own, but then at least the plan to pass it on to you is my own.

I was watching an episode of Gardeners’ World on Amazon Prime when they had a segment about a lady who had a garden with 1,259 pots—and I don’t mean dinky ones.  These were all different and some were quite large.  Sounds crazy, huh?  Apparently she inherited this pot fetish from her mother who had 700 pots.  Now, this is not the significant part.  What is—is that she watered all of these by hand using a watering can that she dipped into 21 different dipping containers that were spread throughout the garden.  These 21 reservoirs are kept filled by a drip system.  Now maybe you don’t mind dragging a hose around the garden, particularly if you have own of those expandable hoses that is light weight.  But consider this:  What if you had a large garbage can that was in a convenient place in the garden that you could fill once in a while and add a light dose of fertilizer.  Now besides not having a hose to mess which each time you water, you are regularly giving your plants extra nutrients.  Good idea?

We have been using this system for a month now.  I use a pump and long hose to fill two 55 gallon barrels—one on each side of the yard.  The water comes from our koi pond so it already has fertilizer added.  The plants absolutely love it.  LaVille uses a watering can that has a handle that runs fore and aft, so she can water with one hand with the other one free to test the soil moisture of each pot.  She only has one good arm left anyway.

She frequently loses track of the watering can, so I tried buying another.  I finally found the right style on Amazon Prime.  (Dramm  7 Liter Watering Can 12433, $38.22)  There are many models that are far less expensive, but they all have bales that are mounted crosswise.

Dramm 7 Liter Watering Can
Watering Can

So even if you don’t have a pot fetish, you may want to try out this new idea.  LaVille would never admit to a fetish, but with the added SPPC plants, she does have over 250 outside containers and 50 inside.

Stan, The Tool Man

Pot Bound

Pot Bound?

No, I’m not asking whether you are heading to the closest pot dispensary.  Nor am I referring the condition of a plant that has cemented itself into a pot with excessive root growth.  I am asking if you are bound to your garden because you have so many potted plants that you can’t go anywhere because they have to be watered so often. 

 I suspected we had pot bound disease, but it really came to light as we left the last SPPC meeting.  I was trying to get rid of some pots left over from the tools and treasures table, and I asked Pat McKnight if she wanted a pot.  She exclaimed that the only plants she had were in the ground.  What a smart lady!  On the other hand we have pots . . lots of pots.  I decided to count them and I came up with over 200.  So if anyone is pot bound, it is we.  This year we scheduled no trips between March and August.  In August we have a gardening friend who will come over a couple times to keep all the potted plants alive.  My goal for the future is to reduce the number of potted plants so that we will be vacation bound when the weather heats up.  What’s your situation?  Do you likewise feel the urge to be pot free?

Stan

Clay Pots

If you want to seal a clay pot so you can apply mosaic materials, or if you simply want to cut down on the water loss through the pot wall, there are many products designed for this purpose.  For instance, if you Google “How to seal flower pots,” you will see a product called “Clay Pot Sealer” that is available at Walmart.  The site also explains how to apply it.  If you have left over granite or grout sealer around, that will also work.  

Bananas and Mallets

SPPC 5 23 18

If you have a twist tiller and no longer are using it, I will buy it from you.  A member of the Iris Club wants one.  She also wants 2 round nose and one flat end shovels, a pick axe, hula hoe, rake, and wheel barrow.

If you have harvested too many bananas at one time, (You do have a banana tree in your garden, don’t you?) as soon as a banana starts to get those brown spots, put them in the frig.  They may turn really ugly, but the fruit will stay palatable for days.

A tool you may wish to consider is a rubber mallet.  Removing a plant from a pot is generally easy with plastic pots.  You are able to squeeze the sides to loosen the soil.  But with a clay or ceramic pot removal can be a chore.  This is a two man job, but if one person supports the plant and soil on its side or up-side down, the other person can rap on the top of the lip of the pot to knock it loose.  Using a block of wood with a regular hammer will also work and keep you from breaking the pot.

Stan, The Blog Man