Growing Zones for Raised Bed Gardens
Container Gardening (such as a Window Box or Deck Planter) is slightly different than growing plants in the ground…which is what the Growing Zone Maps are meant to do. The basic environmental issues are similar but the size and location will vary.
Information for this post is from the 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Your tax dollars at work by the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. See link at bottom of page
The USDA map is the one most gardeners in the eastern United States rely on, and the one that most national garden magazines, catalogs, books, and many nurseries currently use. This map divides North America into 11 separate zones. Each zone is 10°F warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone.
Check out your growing zone by entering your Zip code at this USDA website (cut and paste in your browser): http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov
Other Growing Factors
Many other environmental factors, in addition to hardiness zones, contribute to the success or failure of plants. Wind, soil type, soil moisture, humidity, pollution, snow, and winter sunshine can greatly affect the survival of plants. The way plants are placed in the landscape, how they are planted, and their size and health might also influence their survival. Certainly the type of container they are in plays an important factor in successful gardening.
Light: To thrive, plants need to be planted where they will receive the proper amount of light. For example, plants that require partial shade that are at the limits of hardiness in your area might be injured by too much sun during the winter because it might cause rapid changes in the plant’s temperature.
Soil moisture: Plants have different requirements for soil moisture, and this might vary seasonally. Plants that might otherwise be hardy in your zone might be injured if soil moisture is too low in late autumn and they enter dormancy while suffering moisture stress.
Temperature: Plants grow best within a range of optimum temperatures, both cold and hot. That range may be wide for some varieties and species but narrow for others.
Duration of exposure to cold: Many plants that can survive a short period of exposure to cold may not tolerate longer periods of cold weather.
Humidity: High relative humidity limits cold damage by reducing moisture loss from leaves, branches, and buds. Cold injury can be more severe if the humidity is low, especially for evergreens.
Attach a Window Box on Brick/Concrete
Window Boxes are so popular as we all want to increase curb appeal. Standing up to garden can be done! Using a level, mark the location on the brick sill or concrete wall where you want to mount the Gutter Garden(s) as a raised bed .
- Take into consideration the amount of sun you will get at that location when selecting plants. Put it in a place where it will be easy for you to water, dead-head and where drainage will not damage items below.
Carefully mark where the back holes on the planter are on to the surface where you want to hang them. The enclosed tap-cons are the only really adequate screws to use on concrete or brick walls. Two end holes are the most important and need the longer ( 1 ¾”) tap-con screws. The other, shorter screws ( 1 ¼ “) can be spaced every 8-10 inches. Ideally another person is useful to hold the planter in place when making markings for the holes…or you may want to use tape or some kind of strap. Measure twice and drill once. I often slightly begin drilling holes so I can see that they are lining up with each other while remaining level. The planter itself will cover any miss-drilled holes!
Drill ‘pilot holes’ using the special masonry drill bit with a hammer drill to complete this task. Before I bought my own, I would rent one and the drill bits are generally available at the rental place. Drill the holes at least ¼ inch deeper than length of the screw itself. Use a can of compressed air (the kind w/ the red straw that lets you blow off dust from electronics) to blow out the concrete dust. It is very important that the hole is drilled longer than the screw you are using…so perhaps make a mark on that red straw to be sure the holes are deep enough.
Accurately drilling the holes is the most tedious part, but once the holes are lined up and the screws are tightly in, they will never come out! Use the tap-cons included with your purchase for a very secure raised bed gardens. You’ll receive enough tap-cons and washers to secure your planter/ window box to any type of masonry or brick.
Enclosed are brackets to install with planters longer than 36 inches while you are putting in the screws. Hook it on to the front edge and placing the screw into the back hole of the bracket and then into the pre-drilled hole in the concrete surface. The brackets should be approx. 20-22 inches from each end. These brackets will help keep the integrity of the shape because when the planter is full of wet soil, it may tend to splay/bulge.
How To Add Plants
Each foot length of planter requires approx. 3 quarts of POTTING MIX for a 6” wide planter and over 6 quarts per foot for the 8” wide Gutter Gardens. Do not use topsoil or garden soil. Put in about two inches of good quality potting mix (the best ones already have moisture control and plant food). Level it and water it thoroughly. Add another 2 inches and repeat…being sure that the soil is fairly saturated. If you are going to install an existing plant, now may be the time to begin to plant them. You can insert potting mix up to bottom of the back holes. Consider leaving a little room and put pre-moistened mulch around the plants to help keep the moisture in.
If you are growing from seed, follow the directions on the packet. If planting seed, be sure the planter is completely full of potting mix (up to the bottom of the back holes) that has been completely saturated…this will give you a level start and provide maximum room for root growth.
Helpful Raised Bed Gardening Hints:
- Use a spout watering can to direct the water where it needs to go.
- For a 6” wide planter, select the small six-pack of plants…up to a 4” nursery pot. For an 8” wide planter, you may select up to a 6” nursery pot. Go ahead and crowd them together. They are annuals and will find a way to survive the entire season!
- After about 2 months, begin using water soluble plant food each time you water.
- If, after a hard rain, the raised bed planter looks like a swamp, take a pin or needle and punch up from the bottom holes. Sometimes the fine soil materials clog the drainage holes.
Detailed directions come with your purchase!
What is Deadheading?
Deadheading is a gardening term used for the removal of faded or dead flowers from plants (not to be confused at all with the Grateful Dead groupies). Flowers in the ground and in containers will continue to bloom throughout the growing season if they are regularly deadheaded. Deadheading is usually done to maintain a plant’s appearance and to improve its overall performance. It is important to keep up with in the garden or with your containers throughout the growing season. By removing spent blooms, the plant will send energy to produce more blooms rather than towards developing a seed. The second bloom will last longer than the first…then deadhead again and you may be rewarded with even more blossoms.
Why deadheading is Important
Although deadheading can be a lot of work, it has immeasurable benefits. Gutter Gardens have advantages because you can stand up and garden…including trimming off the spent blooms. This is true for all raised bed gardens…but being able to stand on your porch, deck or balcony every morning and manicure your flowers (or ‘puttering’ as I call it) is a truly rewarding, relaxing activity.
How to Deadhead
Dead-heading is very simple. As the petals fall and the blooms fade, pinch or cut off the flower stem below the spent flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Remove all the dead flowers on the plant as well as yellowing leaves.
Benefits of Deadheading
If you get into the habit of deadheading early and often,, your dead-heading task will be much easier. Beginearly, around late spring, while there are only a few plants with faded flowers. Few things are as rewarding as tending beautiful flowers. You may even be blessed to attract hummingbirds to your deck or balcony when they see the magnificent display you have given them! The regular practice of dead-heading throughout the season will help prolong your enjoyment
Why Attract Hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are really fun to watch and they are important to the environment. Attracting hummingbirds and birds in general can help maintain the amount of bugs in your area and can help to spread seeds around the neighborhood as they travel from plants to trees. It is very rewarding to find ways to attract birds to your deck or balcony planters. One of my favorites is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. (see diagram from Cornell University Dept. of Ornithology for their range)
Growing colorful annuals in your planters is one surefire way to bring small nectar loving birds…mainly hummingbirds to watch close up. The color red is often an attractant. Color is the keyword to remember along with deep throat floral displays.
Hummingbirds seeking nectar from your flowers will also capture many insects including spiders, tiny flying insects, and those insects that feed on your flowers, all which provide a great source of dietary protein for the bird. And, occasionally hummingbirds will consume mosquitos.
Attracting Hummingbirds in Sun or Shade
A sunny spot on your deck or balcony can attract lots of hummingbirds and butterflies with the help of colorful annuals such as flowing Petunias, Salvias, Geraniums, Verbena, Snapdragons, Lantana and Calibrachoa can be combined to create a miniature garden in just one planter box.
Shaded areas can also provide the bright colors that attract hummingbirds. While comparatively fewer shade-loving plants produce bright enough flowers to act as a beacon for hummingbirds, impatiens and begonias are an exception, with flowers that bloom in vibrant oranges, reds and bright pinks.
There are dozens of Begonias, Fuchsias, several varieties of Impatiens, Lobelia, Wishbone Flower, Browallia and Nasturtium are also among classic planters and container summer plants. If it is colorful and or has a fragrance, hummingbirds (and butterflies) will find it. Even a small number of plants can make a big impact in a colorless, shady area.
Having a colorful planter on your balcony or porch is a wonderful way to invite hummingbirds to visit. Put one up this season and enjoy the view!
Planters for Apartment and Condo Balcony or Deck Railings
Living in a condo, an apartment, or in a high-rise doesn’t mean you can’t grow stuff on the deck or balcony.
Condo or apartment railings are perfect to hang planters where growing flowers, herbs, or even organic is easy and successful. Gutter Gardens come in two widths which have different depths to allow you to grow almost anything you may want. And all the floor space on your balcony is free since your planters hang from the railings…outside, inside, or both! Growing flowers is the most popular use of Gutter Gardens. The 6″ wide size is ample enough for most all annual flowers…both full sun and shade.
The mounding annuals work beautifully with some of the trailing plants (spillovers) like creeping jenny or sweet potato vines. Geraniums grow beautifully in full sun and impatiens are very happy in shade areas. Mixing colors is a good idea as long as they have similar sun requirements. Depending on how much sun you have will determine what plants to choose to decorate your apartment or condo balcony. A good local nursery will be glad to sell you plants that work well in the spots you have selected for your container gardens.
Each deck or balcony railing is unique for each condo or apartment building. We offer several lengths of stainless steel ties to accommodate nearly all variations. If you rent or lease, you are probably not allowed to put any holes in the railings. We solved that by providing unbreakable stainless steel ties that will not damage the finish on a rail/balcony. While they are “permanent” and will never fall off, you can take them with you when you move by simply emptying the contents and snipping the cable ties.
Coco Fiber Planters are Yesterday’s News
Deck railings need great planters. Coco fiber planters have been around for a LONG time. They are popular for a number of reasons and initially, we all try them. But, here are my issues with them and why I now use more durable planters.
- They are porous so need watered in the heat of summer.
- They lose their shape and the dirt falls out because the birds use the material for nesting (not that I mind, I’m a birder)
- Coco fiber planters have actually been known for spontaneous combustion.
- Wrought iron holders often peel and rust
Balcony and Deck planters come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Selection options are vast and prices can range from <$15->$75. One thing to consider is permanence
How to plant a Gutter Garden™
Once the Gutter Garden™ is securely attached, you can begin to plant! Most annuals, many herbs and greens (lettuces, kale, and spinach) are successful in the depth of this 6 inch wide planter. Not recommended for planting bulbs. Consider filling up to within ¼ inch of the bottom of the back holes (remember, the soil will compact when water is added). Once the plants are in and the potting mix has settled to the maximum height, you may want to add mulch between the plantings to reduce watering needs.
Each foot of length for a (6” inch wide) gutter garden requires about 3.5 dry quarts of potting mix. (for example, if you purchase a 36” long Gutter Garden™, you will use almost 11 dry quarts of potting mix. Be mindful that each brand has unique characteristics so fill amounts may vary). Be certain to use a soil medium that is designed for containers. Do not be tempted to use top soil or garden soil. Feel free to use organic potting mix or potting mix that contains moisture amendments.
Fill the bottom with about two or three inches of potting mix and water completely (until water drains from the bottom holes). Then gently add your plants and fill in with potting mix. Consider ‘spillers’ such as sweet potato vines or ‘creeping jennies’ between the flowers. Be mindful of the sun requirements for your plants. Many Gutter Gardeners have seen success by placing plants in a staggered way as opposed to in a straight line. If you are planting seeds, fill to near the bottom of the back holes and follow directions on the seed packets.
- If the planter has problems draining, poke a straight pin up through the bottom holes. This sometimes occurs when small potting mix particles clog the bottom filter.
- Gutter Gardens™ are hand made with riveted end-caps and a food grade caulk…so safely grow your own herbs and veggies…be as organic as you wish.
- Some plants are aggressive so cut them back hard to allow other plants to thrive and get sunlight.
Outsmart the Rabbits with Raised Bed Gardening
Gutter Gardens™ is one of the best raised bed gardening systems there is! And it helps defeat the damage done by deer and rabbits. Mount these planters on a balcony or deck railing; or as a window box planter and you will outsmart those rabbits and deer and enjoy growing edibles or flowers without the hassles. Gardening is so worthwhile. So many pleasures to smell, feel or taste. And so easy to install!!!
We no longer need tractors or rotor-tillers. We can grow amazing things in containers. Planters have been used for centuries. They keep improving and now, with the introduction of Gutter Gardens™, they just keep getting better and easier. The standard raised bed system consists of some kind of frame that sits on the ground, is filled with soil and then planted. This system is particularly successful in growing vegetables that require a great deal of root depth (like tomatoes and corn). I have been using the standard raised bed for years and will continue to do so. BUT I still have issues with the critters in my yard (mainly squirrels, rabbits, deer, raccoons and just recently I have seen a possum!). If possible, put up fences to try to thwart them.
For growing most annual flowers, lettuces, kale, spinach, and many different kinds of herbs, getting the garden UP, off of the ground works best. The rabbits and slugs cannot reach them. Local dogs can’t lift a leg on them, either!
Outsmart the Critters
Another good trick to discourage these animals from helping themselves to your bounty is to apply cayenne pepper to the leaves and produce in the morning when there is still moisture/dew…Just remember to repeat this every few days and after a rainfall. One chomp of something with cayenne pepper on it will change their minds quickly! Remember not to get the cayenne pepper in or near your own eyes!! STAND UP and GARDEN !!!
Stand Up and Garden? What’s that all about? The picture below is the very first planter I made after a back injury in 2012 prevented me from bending over to garden. Lovely, isn’t it? I needed a way to garden and came up with the idea of using rain gutter materials that would hang in a level, secure manner. It took about a year to get all the ‘kinks’ out and now the Stand Up and Garden planter has made gardening easy and fun again. Using stainless steel hardware, these handy containers can be mounted under windows for a long-lasting Window Box…or screwed into a wooden shed or deck/fence railing. However, most people use the (included) stainless steel cable ties to hang the planters from a Balcony or Deck railing. When installed correctly, they will not damage the finish on the railing and they will stay in place until you take them down.
Why ‘Stand Up and Garden’?
Rabbits and deer and weeds, oh, my! Putting a planter UP not only makes it easy for people to garden, it makes it nearly impossible for critters to reach your prize flowers or vegetables.. Attaching your Stand Up and Garden (SUAP) planter as a window box or on a railing can remove many of the irritations gardeners face. No more need to haul a hose around the yard.
Other Benefits of Gardening on your Deck/Balcony:
- Having access to your herbs right outside your kitchen window or deck makes cooks very happy.
- Using a raised bed planter allows one to be as organic as one wants….by purchasing quality organic potting mix.
- Hummingbirds are often drawn to planters that are on deck/balcony railings.
- Dead-heading is easy (and a rewarding morning ritual) so your plants will thrive and bloom all season.