The Hippo


May 27, 2020








A transplant inside the Stonefalls Gardens greenhouse in Henniker. Wendy Hall photo.

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The UNH Cooperative Extension has volunteer master gardeners available via email, phone or in person during regular hours, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Call 1-877-398-4769, visit and click the “education” link in the right hand corner.

Start small
Keep your garden tiny for easier care

By Kelly Sennott

If you’re a new (or lazy) gardener, one way to keep the workload small is to keep your garden small too. We talked with a few locals on how to do this, from container and raised-bed to lasagna gardens.

The options
Marcy Stanton, master garden coordinator at UNH Cooperative Extension, says you can build container gardens in most anything — she’s seen it done in whiskey barrels, large pots, children’s swimming pools, even a bathtub. You just need to make sure it’s deep enough for what you want to grow; that there are holes in it for good drainage; and that the material’s compatible with plant life.
Avoid containers that have held inedible substances, and also those that have been pressure or chemically treated and whose walls aren’t solid.
“If it has open spaces on the sides, [the soil] can dry out faster, which makes it more difficult to keep adequately watered,” Stanton said via phone.
There’s also raised-bed gardening, where the plants are grown in raised beds above the surrounding soil, often enclosed by a frame. 
And then there’s lasagna gardening, a technique that allows more room for growth. It involves laying down cardboard or biodegradable material on the ground you’d like to garden on, then piling compost and soil on top, at least a foot deep.
“You can plant your seeds directly without having to limit yourself to containers,” said Colin Nevins, a Goddard College senior who’s designing an edible landscape at MainStreet BookEnds.
In creating lasagna gardens, he likes using natural materials — like stones, logs and cinder blocks — as walls. With this method, you don’t have to worry about plants overgrowing; if need be, roots will penetrate through the cardboard or biodegradable material you laid down.
Before you start, it’s important to know how big your plant will grow. Stanton says most beginners will likely go for transplants — these have already grown from the seed — but she advises doing some research, either independently (looking online or at the label itself) or by asking the garden center you’re buying from or calling UNH Cooperative Extension.
What to grow
“If you’re starting small, the best thing to do is grow something you like to eat or see,” Stanton said. “If you really like it, it will give you motivation to keep up with it. A lot of people start vegetable gardens, and they just grow whatever’s for sale as a transplant, not thinking of whether their family would like to eat it.”
Wendy Hall, gardener at Stonefalls Gardens in Henniker, says there are a variety of things especially suited for container gardens — two examples she gave are Tumbling Tom tomatoes and Patio Star zucchini, which are compact and produce lots of fruit. Lettuces and greens fit well in smaller gardens, Stanton said, and there are vegetable varieties specifically designed for smaller spaces.
How to make it grow
First, make sure you have adequate soil; if you’re planting in the ground, you’ll need to make sure you get a soil test (less than $20 if you do it through UNH Cooperative extension, which tests how acidic your soil is and also how much fertilizer to add). The lazy way: just use a bag of good potting mix.
If you’re planting multiple items in the same container or plot, you need to make certain they’re compatible. Don’t put a sun-loving plant with a shade-loving one, says Hall. Vegetables need at least eight hours of sun, but certain flowers have different requirements.
If space is an issue, go vertical; use trellises so that plants grow up instead of wide. (These are available at garden centers.) 
“[Container gardens] are less maintenance,” Hall said. “If you’ve never gardened before, it’s a good way to learn and observe how things grow.”
For one, the insect issue is more controllable in a container; Stanton advises gardeners to learn about what insects might affect their plants, and to check daily for signs of problems. 
“You can pick them off if you see them visibly growing over healthy plants,” she said.
In container gardens, there’s virtually no weeding involved, which is “huge for people who don’t have a lot of time,” Hall said.
And if something’s not getting enough or is getting too much sun, you just need to move it. (Plus, you can keep it closer to the house, which means it’s probably less likely to be eaten by wild animals.)
As for watering, soil should be moist, not sopping wet, but gardeners should also learn to identify when a plant looks good or bad. Droopiness, for instance, is a sign of bad health and could indicate either over- or under-watering.
For the fun of it
“We have people call in here, and they’re very upset because something died. It’s not like we’re depending on the food we grow,” Stanton said. “It should be fun. It shouldn’t be stressful.”
Nevins’s advice: don’t overthink it.
“Plants want to grow. If you give them enough attention, it can be pretty easy and rewarding. It’s not as big of a feat as I think people make it out to be,” Nevins said. 
As seen in the April 16, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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