Garden Answers
Kate Karam
Garden Answers
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The left corner of my desk is a popular spot these days. See, its gardening season, and as a former nursery owner and landscape designer, and currently a Master Gardener, I’m the go-to office guru for all things horticultural, botanical, and outdoor mechanical.That translates daily to someone perching on my desk or sending an email, usually accompanied by a hand-drawn sketch, asking for advice or just general hand-holding. Even after all these years, I am the first to admit that gardening can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis but, as with most DIY projects, let me clue you in on a little fact—it’s more about having the right tools than being a savant.

So, I thought it might be useful to answer a few questions and share a few products that can help make gardening a chore you adore.

  • Can I grow tomatoes in a pot?

Answer, yes, as long as it is one big ol’ pot.The root ball on a mature tomato plant can easily fill a 15-gallon nursery container so watchword here is go big or go home. Please, yes, I am pleading, invest in a 20” or larger pot. Your plants will thrive and healthy plants are less inclined to be pest-magnets.

  •  How often do I feed my potted plants?

Entire books have been written on this topic, but as a general rule feed when you plant, after the first blooms or fruits, and once more just to use up what’s left in the bag of fertilizer. The first feeding helps set roots and inspires shoots, while the second nourishes plants that have doubled-down in their effort to put out flowers and fruit. That third feeding is more about greening up tired plants and it just makes everyone feel better. Cultivate soil (just scratch the surface with a trowel to loosen compacted planting mix) and feed according to product directions.

  •   I have an ugly wall. Now what?

It would seem urban blight isn’t contained to cities because my co-workers have flashed me pictures of generic fences, scary looking concrete walls, and prison-worthy wire fences out in the ‘burbs. My best advice goes like this, “vines are divine” and adding a sturdy trellis gets you halfway to heaven. Look for vines that, by habit, cling or sucker to surfaces, thereby doing most of the work for you. If you are more adventurous, try a vertical garden like this one.

  •  I want a no-work, no-hassle garden.

I’ll just wave my magic wand over your patch of dirt and shazaam! If only, right? My advice here is to create a small but glorious little patch where you are most likely to see it daily. A few flowering shrubs, a pretty fountain, and a few cooking herbs tucked in pots is all you need. Now you can get on with the rest of your busy life.

Even though you can’t come sit desk side and whip out your iPhone to regale me with your landscaping horror pix, I’m here to help. Any questions?

- Kate

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Leave Your Thoughts (16 Comments)

  1. ann ·

    Living in Florida,, our goal is conserve water, we are fortunate that the former owner installed a sprinkler system that comes from the fresh water canal behind our home. Best Idea, free fertilizer each time sprinklers used.

    • Kate KaramKate Karam ·

      You are lucky indeed! I water my lawn at 4am to avoid evaporation (and because once I watered the garden at 2pm and the combination of solar heated water in the hose and warm soil pretty much incinerated my plants!).

  2. ann ·

    excellent web page…first time user..looking forward to more

  3. Nancy ·

    Love these posts. Thank you so much Wayfair.

  4. Chung ·

    I am not a gardener, nor I don’t know anything about garden. But I want to have a garden. So this page is great to know some about it. Now, my question is, I live in central virginia, what plants can I use to make a simple, not much time to take care garden. I want some flowering ones, and ever green ones. Thanks a lot!

    • Kate KaramKate Karam ·

      My sister lives in Virginia and it is hot as a matchstick in summer and pretty cold in winter–not knowing exactly where you live I’d guess your zone is 7B. You didn’t specify sun or shade so I will give you some ideas for sun (let me know if you have shade).

      Your best bet for a fairly easy care sunny garden is going to be a backbone of flowering shrubs combined with a few evergreens like holly, Thuja, and barberry selected for height, scale, and texture. While they’re not rare nor remarkable, I have installed dozens of Knock Out roses and Endless Summer hydrangea in client gardens when I was a landscape designer and always had excellent feedback–common can sometimes equal proven, which is a good thing when you want a drama-free garden.

      Plant in groups of 3-5 (for example, in a bed that’s 30 ft wide by 8 ft deep, I would plant a clump of barberry at one end, followed by one thuja for height and scale (it gets tall and big), then a clump of shrub roses overlapping the thuja, ending with a stand of holly) for a bed that would give you all season interest. I know it is a big investment to buy three of something but the payoff is a swoonworthy display that adds value both to your home and to your life!

      Once those plants are established (in about 3 years) you can layer in some perennials(peonies would be a lovely choice, for example) for extra oomph. Annuals are always a good solution for bare spots in newly planted beds, or just because you have an urge to get your hands dirty (personally I never get tired of sunflowers, especially Italian white or the rich red ones like ‘Chocolate Cherry’.)

      I would love to recommend a book that’s a favorite and will give you plenty of information without making you like you’re stuck in 8th grade science class: The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch.

      Oh, and one final thought (but feel free to ask specific questions)–in just a few months you will see flowering bulbs in stores. Bulbs are super-easy to plant, yield cut flowers and most will come back season after season (daffodils seem to come back forever; tulips not so much, but wow!)–be sure to save a little $$$ from your garden budget to buy a few dozen.

      • chung ·

        thank you so much

  5. Joan ·

    Find me a source of Smith&Haken hand weeder triangular metal tool.

    • Kate KaramKate Karam ·

      I so miss Smith and Hawken!

      I can’t help you find a source for the S&H brand (Target does carry some tools but not all) but can recommend this one from Wayfair:

      SKU #: BKP1004 | Part #: WW-300
      Winged Weeder Winged Weeder Jr With Short Handle

      Maybe someone will have a better lead!

  6. MarilynB ·

    Love this blog! Gardening is my stress buster plus I’m a deep south gal living in San Antonio Texas now and still gardening in spite of severe drought (three years). A challenge to say the least. I’ve had to let many things go to reduce water usage and slowly rethink plant choices.A challenge to say the least.

    • Kate KaramKate Karam ·

      You have my sympathy! I spent several years in Alabama and had to learn to let go of my English garden leanings. My solution was to go native, so to speak, and rely on containers to give me shots of color in my exhausted garden come July.

      • MarilynB ·

        So true. One thing that has continued to flourish are the ferns! Some of them are the size of the hood of my SUV! and add lots of green. A squirt of water a day keeps them happy. The courtyard is still beautiful! I have it in a huge pot. It blooms early Spring thru late Fall. Large deep long stem coral blooms. The color reminds me of lipstick! I love looking out the french doors and seeing this pop of color bobbing around in the breeze.

        • MarilynB ·

          What I’m seeing is some of the last post is missing!!! don’t know what happened. I’m referring to a Dolly Parton Rose residing in my courtyard.. in the huge pot/long stem coral blooms..(<:

          • Kate KaramKate Karam ·

            I guess the drought minimizes black spot and powdery mildew? Dedicated gardeners can make any patch of rock work. I have just moved to a new place that is 10 steps from the Atlantic ocean and am learning a lot about rocks and sand. Just looked up Dolly Parton and WOW!

  7. Barbara ·

    First time I have heard to use a pot 20″ or larger for tomato plants, thank you for your recommendation. I’ll give it a try since my pot plants for years have been underachievers. Will also take your advice on watering AFTER placing fertilizer. Thank you!

  8. Cheryl ·

    Love anything that adds eye appeal to a garden spot, especially little ambiance corners, even though I never seem to have time to sit in any. Hunting garage sales and end-of-season sales is a great time for bargains. Spray paint does wonders for bargain containers. Gardening definitely lifts the spirits and soothes the soul. Ask my 96 yr. old mother who still gardens around her senior community & comes out to my 3 acres to weed for me with her favorite hoe using one arm, as the other shoulder is worn out from years of gardening. A wonderful place for contemplation, prayer, and fulfillment.