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Mix It Up For Mom

Fancy pots of flowers for the patio, deck or front porch are the ideal gift for Mom. You can put them together from potted plants you purchase from your local retailer. But why stop at flowers? The latest trend has us mixing herbs, vegetables, or even shrubs into the containers for interest or nutrition.

The Culinary Institute of America has been decorating their Hyde Park campus for years with mixed containers. They like the beauty of the flowers that bloom all summer along with the edibles that define their mission. The chefs-in-training get a close up look at all kinds of fresh vegetables as they pass by the displays on Anton Plaza. Here’s how it’s done:

Choose a container – It’s true that you can use any container as a patio planter. Even old shoes. But for these mixed pots I want you to choose a large urn. If you’re going to grow vegetables, it’s crucial that they don’t dry out, or the fruits will get hard and mealy. All those plants in one pot use up a lot of water. So find a big pot, 16 inches across or larger. A ceramic pot works great, because it won’t blow over in the wind, which can be an issue once a tomato or eggplant starts to get over four feet tall. And what about sweet corn, which looks stunning in a mixed pot. Don’t forget, ceramic pots need to be brought into the garage for the winter, or the finish will crack.

Soil – Any loose potting soil or even peat moss mixed with garden soil will work well. Weeds are not a big issue in containers, as they can be easily pulled out. For extra large pots, you can fill the bottom with broken pottery or stones, as the roots need not penetrate more than 12 inches down. You will need drainage holes, or a heavy rain will fill the pot with water, drowning the plants’ roots.

Water and Fertilizer – All those flowers and vegetables jammed together soak up a lot of water and fertilizer, so be prepared to water almost daily. You can mix a water-soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Jack’s Classic into the irrigation water, or add a long-lasting organic fertilizer to the soil before planting.

The Plants – Now for the fun part. Most of the big mixed containers I’ve seen feature the vegetable in the middle and the flowers around the edges, because the veggie plants are usually taller. Or you can alternate flowers and herbs on the outside. Many varieties of vegetables are bred especially for containers, so they don’t grow too tall. Patio tomatoes, for example. Almost all eggplant and pepper varieties work well in the center. Kale adds texture. Malabar spinach weaves itself throughout the surface. You can blur the line with edible flowers like pansies or nasturtium, which spills over the edge. Ornamental cabbage and kale are stunning mixed with fall-blooming chrysanthemums. How about strawberries along with begonias, or mahogany okra and magenta petunias? Artichokes make an ideal centerpiece, surrounded by flowering million bells. Vegetables prefer sun, but a shade container will perform with lettuce and new guinea impatiens or coleus. Let you imagination run wild.

And since Dads love vegetables, you can use the same container for Father’s Day!

-Mark Adams

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