creating edible container garden

UPDATE: This blog post originally was published six-years-ago, and I still like to grow vegetables in pots. It’s hard to believe that my garden helper is now 16 years old and driving a car!

I hope you enjoy it!

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Javelina stepping out of an arroyo

Yesterday, I had a rather unexpected encounter with a javelina while taking pictures of a landscape. I think he was as surprised as I was to see him and he retreated back to his arroyo after a couple of minutes. That meeting inspired me to write this post and how they affect the desert garden – primarily what types of plants they like to eat.  

Javelina travel through arroyos (washes)

To state that I was surprised to come so close to a javelina is an understatement. In the over twenty years that I’ve worked in desert gardens, I seldom see these pig-like mammals as they usually sleep through the day underneath mesquite or other desert trees.

Often referred to as ‘wild pigs’ due to their resemblance to a boar, they aren’t pigs, but are a peccary, which is a medium-sized mammal with hooves. Javelina are found throughout the Southwest, but their range also extends to Central and South America. In urban settings, you’ll find them in more naturalized areas.

They frequently travel in herds, although I only saw these two adults on this day. While it can be enjoyable to view them from afar (don’t get too close as they can be dangerous), dealing with the damage that they cause to gardens isn’t fun.

 

Javelina love to eat the pretty things we plant in our desert landscapes such as flowering annuals, and they don’t stop there. The spines on your prized cactus won’t deter a hungry javelina – they go right in and munch on the base of a prized columnar cactus as well as the pads of prickly pear cactus.

When surveying the damage that they cause to the garden, what makes it worse, is that javelina frequently don’t eat what they dig up.

My relationship with javelina is a long one, which began by working to keep them away from the thirty-six tee boxes that I had to plant with flowering annuals seasonally. Not surprisingly, they were drawn to these colorful islands and would dislodge the plants by rooting them up with their snouts before eating them.

My crew and I had some mixed success with spraying squirrel repellent every few days on the petunias, but it was a lot of work and not foolproof.

Javelina will zero in on popular potted annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, which are like candy to them. While geraniums aren’t their favorite potted flower, they will eat them too if hungry enough.

If you want pretty containers filled with flowers and live in a neighborhood where javelina are present, you’ll need to place the pots in an enclosed area or courtyard where they can’t reach. 

Bacopa

 

Lavender

There are some flowering plants that they usually stay away from and these include Bacopa and Lavender, which can be used in containers.

 

Depending on the time of year, a javelina’s diet changes, based on what is available. In winter, citrus they will grab citrus fruit off of the tree.

In summer, mesquite seedpods are one of their favorite foods.

A Cereus peruvianus cactus that has some bites taken out of its base by javelina.

A fairly common sight is a columnar cactus with some bites taken out of its base, where javelina are present. In most cases, the damage is largely cosmetic and the cactus will be fine. However, to prevent further damage, you can surround the base of the cactus with a wire mesh cage.

While there is no guarantee that javelina won’t eat the plants in your desert garden from time to time, there are some plants that are less palatable to them than others. Here a helpful link for javelina resistant plants, but I must tell you that if a javelina is hungry enough, it will eat the plants on this list – I know this from personal experience. 

The only foolproof way to keep them away from eating your plants is to keep them out with a fence or wall.

Do you have javelina where you live? What type of plants do you notice them eating? Any plants that they seem to leave alone?

 

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Last winter, I was enjoying a rare moment of peace….no kids or husband in the house, the garden didn’t need any attention and no articles to write. So, I decided to see what was on television.  As I was channel surfing, I saw a gardening show and of course, I stopped and watched.

What I saw was the host and featured garden expert, showing how to grow vegetables and flowers together in containers. Since I love both vegetables and flowers, I was intrigued.  So I bought the book written by the featured garden expert and got started.


I found nice plastic containers on sale along with some tiny trellises, as well as planting mix (NOT potting soil, which gets too soggy for container plants).
Planting mix is specially formulated for containers – it has a light texture and holds just the right amount of moisture for plants.


Then, I started planting.  I came up with the vegetable and flower combinations on my own and I must admit that I was happy how they turned out…




The first container has purple violas, spinach, bell pepper plant and nasturtiums. I started all of these from transplants, except for the nasturtiums, which came from seed that I planted.
 
I periodically snip the spinach for salads and I have harvested a single bell pepper so far.  However, there are flowers on my pepper plant, so more peppers are on the way.
 
 
This container was planted with red and green leaf lettuce, pink dianthus and cucumbers.
 
I snip the lettuce for salad and the dianthus has been blooming nonstop. The only problem that I have had with this container are the cucumbers.
 
Cucumbers do best when started from seed, not transplants.  I have grown a lot of cucumbers over the years.  So, I placed two small trellises in the back of the container and planted cucumber seeds at their base. I picked a variety of cucumbers that were small and would do well in a container.
 
Unfortunately, they never came up.
 
I tried planting them in my regular vegetable garden and they never came up.
 
I tried starting them indoors and they didn’t sprout.
*I had purchased the seeds online from a very reputable seed company, but the entire package of seeds was defective. 
 
So I planted my go-to cucumber seeds and they are starting to grow beautifully.

 

My last vegetable/flower container has romaine lettuce, sugar snap peas and Icelandic poppies.
 
The lettuce has done very well, BUT my little dog discovered that he likes lettuce, and he would take some little bites from the sides of the lettuce.  I simply put some plastic patio chairs around the pot and he kept away.  Later, I took the chairs away and he left the lettuce alone.
 
The poppies haven’t bloomed yet, but I can see their buds, so it won’t be long now.

I have been picking off sugar snap peas every time I am in the garden and eating them on the spot.
 
So, does the idea of growing vegetables and flowers together appeal to you?
 
The book I read was “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers” by Pamela Crawford. (I haven’t been asked to promote her book – I bought it myself and really enjoyed it so much). 
 
I can’t wait to try some different combos this summer once the lettuce fades away.  I promise I will share 🙂
 
**One thing I love so much about gardening is trying new things. This one was a home run for me.

I absolutely love to travel and one of my favorite destinations is Europe.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to visit in recent years, but my daughter and her husband were able to travel there this summer and visited three different countries – France, Germany and Italy.

 
When they returned, I couldn’t wait to hear about their adventures and view their photos.  I was particularly touched by the fact that my daughter took the time to take some pictures of some of the beautiful flowering plants they saw in Germany.

 

 I just love window boxes….don’t you?
 
The reason it meant a lot to me is that my oldest daughter is not particularly into gardening – but that could be because she lives in an apartment and has no space for gardening 😉  So, the fact that she took the time to take photos for me to share with me meant a lot.

 

I do not know what all of these flowering plants are and would love some help with identifying some of them 🙂
Geraniums, Verbena and Chamomile?
Don’t you love the stone planter?
Germany has a special place in my heart because years ago, my grandparents were transferred there for work when I was young.  As a result, I spent two summers in Germany as a child along with my parents and siblings.  
 
We spent our time in Frankfurt where my grandparents lived.  I remember the large field of strawberries that were grown in the back garden and the struggle keeping the rabbits away.  But mostly, I remember how delicious the strawberries tasted.
 Lobelia
I grow this beautiful annual in the winter months.
A couple of times a week, a local farmer would drive up our street and open up his van which contained a plentiful harvest of all sorts of fruit and vegetables.  Wouldn’t it be great if the farmer delivered produce straight from the farm nowadays?
Okay, I just love this photo of little garden gnomes.
I find it interesting how certain smells can bring a crystal clear memory to my mind.  To this day, the smell of bus exhaust reminds me of a cobblestone street in downtown Frankfurt.
 These were my daughter’s favorite flower that she saw.
Any ideas what type of flower this is?
On my kitchen wall is the beautiful cuckoo clock that my grandparents brought back from Germany.  Growing up, we loved hearing it cuckoo on the hour and dancing to the music that played afterward as the tiny figurines twirled in a circle.
Isn’t this a beautiful flower?
Any ideas what it is? 
Our cuckoo clock has not worked for many years and I keep meaning to get it fixed so that my kids can enjoy it as I did as a child.
Beautiful red roses.
Both my husband and I have some German ancestry and I hope to be able to visit there again and experience the beauty that Germany has to offer.
  
Are there any places that have a special place in your heart for, or that you yearn to visit someday?

Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)

One of my favorite summer annuals is vinca.

 

Stop by any nursery this time of year, and you will find flats full of their vibrant blooms, and there are many different colors available.

 

From purples and pinks to bright reds.

Vinca works excellent in containers or when planted in the ground.  They prefer well-drained soil in a warm, sunny area.
 
This warm-season annual enjoys regular watering and does best with some fertilizer, but don’t overdo it.  I usually apply a slow-release fertilizer when planting and follow up with monthly applications of a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro.  If you want to go organic, then you can just use a mixture of good potting soil mixed with compost.  
 

Now some of you may have had the experience of growing beautiful vinca one year and the next year; you have a terrible time with them. Shortly after planting you notice your vinca beginning to wilt, and no amount of water seems to help.

Has this happened to you? Extra water will not help because the vinca is suffering from a case of ‘Vinca Wilt’.  This is not the scientific term, but for those of you who like long scientific names, your vinca is likely the victim of a Phytophthora fungus, which affects the roots, preventing them from absorbing water – hence the dried out look of the vinca.  
 
This fungus lives in the soil and infects the roots, causing them to rot. It loves moist conditions, and so more water hastens the demise of vinca.  
 
So, what can you do? The fungal spores can last for months or even years in the soil. You can usually rely on one good year of vinca growth, but then the spores start to multiply, and by the next year, they begin to affect your new plants.
 
 
I recommend using vinca for one year and then use something different the next three years. Of course, you can remove all the soil from your containers and sterilize the inside with a bleach water mixture and then add new soil, which can work for a few containers at home, but it is not cost-effective in a larger setting.  For me, it is not worth it either, because there are so many other beautiful summer annuals that you can use. 
 
I hope this solves any mystery surrounding vinca.  They are beautiful and well worth growing – for a year at least.
 

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Today, I visited our local big box store to buy some summer annuals for my containers.  Each time I visit, I mentally prepare myself ahead of time because I usually get frustrated at the fact that they frequently sell the wrong plants for the wrong time of year.  I have posted about this before, which you can read here if you like.

In the meantime, I thought I would give you a pop-quiz.  I know, I know….no one likes pop quizzes.  In high school, those words would create a sinking feeling in my stomach every time.  But I promise, I will give you the answers and I am an easy grader 😉
 
The following are flowers that were offered for sale today.   Some are summer annuals for our area and some are winter annuals, which will soon die from the coming summer heat.  Are you ready for the quiz?  There are two possible answers for each question – summer or winter flower. 
 Petunias
Winter or Summer Annual?
  
Celosia
 Winter or Summer Flowers?
 
Vinca
Winter or Summer?
 
Lobelia
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
 
Verbena
Winter or Summer Flowers?
 
Alyssum
Winter or Summer?
 
 
Impatiens
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
Red Salvia
Winter or Summer?
 
Begonia
Winter or Summer Flower?
 
Portulaca
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
I told you I would give you the answers, so here they are:
 
Petunias – Winter
Celosia – Summer
Vinca – Summer
Lobelia – Winter
Verbena – Summer
Alyssum – Winter
Impatiens – Winter
Red Salvia – Summer
Begonia – Winter
Portulaca – Summer
 
How did you do?  It is not easy to tell looking at the flowers which one will do well in summer and which ones do best in winter. 
 
I do go to big box stores and buy plants because they are usually inexpensive.  BUT, I DO NOT rely on their advice or the fact that if they are carrying certain plants, that they are appropriate to plant at that time of year.  Shopping at big box store nurseries only works if you do your research ahead of time.  Just because they have a plant on display does not mean that it will survive for long in your garden.
For example, the big box store had winter and summer annual flowers displayed right next to each other (above).  There was no way to know that the one on the right would survive the summer and that the one on the left would soon be dead from the summer heat.
 
If you are uncertain about what plants to purchase, then I recommend doing your own research OR going to a local nursery, where you may pay a little more, but you can receive expert advice on the right type of plant to plant the right time of year.
 
I ended up buying two Radiation lantana for my front containers.  Lantana are great summer flowers and I then transplant them into my garden in the fall.
 
**Butterfly update – the caterpillars are still within their chrysalis.  I am hoping they emerge early next week.  I have had to bring them indoors the past two nights because the temperatures have dropped below 55 degrees.  I will keep you updated 🙂
 
I hope you all have a great weekend!

Please enjoy the photos of the plants currently blooming in my

desert garden……
 
  Radiation Lantana ‘Desert Sunset’
 Desert Willow  Chilopsis linearis)
 
Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’
 ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

Yellow Bells  (Tecoma stans stans)

Goodings Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)