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GREEN THUMB: Making container gardens

Nancy Brachey offers tips and solutions for home gardeners:

Q. I'm doing some container gardens now and want to know: Should I use packaged potting soil with fertilizer already in it? Should I go to the trouble of putting bits of broken flower pot over the hole in the bottom of the pot?

A. I am glad you are finally getting round to this rewarding task. Fortunately, there are still plenty of plants around to make a beautiful container garden.

Some of the top brands in potting soil include mixes with slow-release fertilizer in it. There is no reason not to choose this. However, look at the label for guidance on the length of time the fertilizer will be effective. There is up to a good five months left for container gardens (possibly more, if November stays nice). You may have to plan on some liquid fertilizer this autumn.

The bit of broken flower pot is important because it helps retain that loose, valuable potting soil. With that hole left uncovered, you will see it wash out over time. And that's a loss.

Do something bright and beautiful with those containers. If the pot is 12 inches or bigger, use two or three kinds of plants. Aim for something vertical such as angelonia in the center, with mounding plants such as begonias around it and trailing plants, such as petunias over the side.

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Q. My roses have bloomed out, and I'm wondering if it would be good to fertilize them and hope for another round of bloom.

A. Definitely. Roses are heavy feeders, and any fertilizer you put on in spring is likely to be gone. That is unless you used one of the slow-release products that state on the label they work for a set period of time, such as three or six months.

Since you probably did not, apply rose fertilizer now at the rate directed on the package. And fertilizer requires water to work its best, so if it doesn't rain, water the plants.

Take care to avoid wetting the foliage as much as possible. Watering in the morning is best because the foliage dries out rapidly and becomes less susceptible to diseases.

Since you had good bloom, you should do a little early-summer pruning to remove those spent flowers. Cut back stems to a leaf divided into five leaflets; this is where new growth will emerge. Make the slanting cut about ¼ inch above it.

Look over the plant and remove any leaves that are marred by disease. Once new foliage emerges, spray it with a rose fungicide. Hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, landscape and some climbing roses bloom on new growth, so this work will be worth your time and you can keep the flowers going well into autumn.

BOOK REVIEW

"Foliage" By Nancy J. Ondra. Storey Publishing. 304 pages. $35, hardcover; $24.95, paperback.

Thumb through this book, with excellent photographs by Rob Cardillo, and you'll never see leaves as just leaves again. With emphasis on colorful, textured and unusually shaped foliage, the author shows what an effect it can have on a landscape and garden.

"For most of us, it's the beauty of flowers that lured us into gardening in the first place," she writes. "Eventually, even the most ardent flower lover realizes that a garden based only on blooms leaves something to be desired."

Look to the leaves, she urges, and there are many choices. Especially interesting is the enormous range of leaf color from silver and ice blue to sparkling golds, robust reds and deep purples. The author offers good advice on choosing foliage plants for containers and landscapes.

One large container is so filled with colorful leaves that you can hardly believe it has only a few trailing flowers. A plant directory offers guidance on selecting and growing dozens of kinds of plants, organized by left color, shape and size.

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