Newly Registered
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 12:14 pm
Location: Los Angeles

Newbie with lots o'questions

I'm relatively new to container gardening and I guess I have lots of questions so I can try to avoid killing everything like I did last year.

I live in Los Angeles (which I'm told is zone 9-11) and bought all my supplies at Home Depot (my first mistake). I bought some terracotta pots and planted geraniums, kangaroo paw, and a jalapeno plant. The geraniums did pretty well actually but since I have a cement yard I noticed when I picked up the plants there were these little tiny bugs hiding under the pot. I figured they were something awful and those were invading/killing my plants.

Later on in the season my pots started to grow this white stuff on the outside near the base, which I figure is some sort of fungus.

I finally figured out this year the reason my jalapeno and kangaroo paw didn't go anywhere was due to the pots being too small. Also because of the climate here, leaving the pots direct on the cement ground probably fried the poor things. This is the only location on our house that gets good direct sunlight all day since it faces South South East.

At one point I did raise my geraniums onto a rack of sorts (it's like a mini-baker's rack) but they just died off a horrid ugly death.

I used a Miracle-Gro potting soil which said it was good for both flowers and veggies, then later as everything got uglier and uglier I started to use some Miracle-Gro food (I followed the packaging instructions), it was no use.

I watered every other day (with and without the Miracle Gro) when the temps were in the 60-89 range then bumped to every day when it got really hot like 90-100.

So I guess I just need some suggestions on kinda everything. This year I really want to grow a tomato plant and try the jalapenos again. I'm definitely going to a local nursery for these plants, but I'm curious about a good potting soil mix and how to prep and keep my pots off the ground (my rack will not support the weight of a large pot, it's not big enough). I think a friend told me not to use those saucer type base pieces for my pots because they can collect water and cause fungus? Also can anyone recommend a good type of pot if terracotta isn't good? Especially with that white stuff that grew on them.

And the last thing, since I work and I'm gone from the house from 7am to 6pm, is the direct sunlight going to kill my plants? Since most of the plants I chose said "direct sunlight" I figured they'd be ok, but they seemed to wilt pretty bad with the high heat. I don't really have an area of my house that isn't either full sun or full shade so I'm worried I'll bake the poor things all over again. Or with a larger container does this pretty much resolve that? (my original containers I think were 7 or 9 inches in diameter - so if I go up to like 17 inches will that make a big difference?)

I guess to me it seems too vague on the plant label when it says full sun, partial sun or shade...

Any-hoo any advice would be great...

Sorry this is sooooo long! :D

Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7500
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 7:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

First off, Miracle Gro and similar commercial fertilizers will burn plant roots if applied as frequently as you seem to have done, esp. in small pots.

Three pieces of advice:

1) Pick up a copy of The Bountiful Container, by Rose Marie Nichols McGee & Maggie Stuckey. It's a complete guide to growing veggies, herbs, and some fruits in containers. I read my library's copy before I purchased my own, so this may be an avenue for you to pursue.

2) Find a local, *independent* garden-supply store/nursery. The big box stores do NOT employ staff who are knowledgeable about plants or plant care. These places also receive really generic plants which may not be suited at all for your area and will tell you anything you want to hear just so they can sell more "widgets" (I.e., plants, pots, bags, anything at all).

3) In California, the USDA Hardiness Zone system can be very misleading. A better guide to selecting and caring for varieties of plants which will succeed is the Sunset Climate Zone System. Sunset's Western Garden Book has maps and descriptions of growing zones--29 alone in the western U.S. & Canada--which are much more finely drawn than the USDA Zones (only 11 for the entire continent of North America). My library has a circulating copy of the Sunset book, and many independent nurseries also have browsing copies available. Los Angeles proper is in Sunset Zone 22, but there are at least five Sunset zones in the L.A. Basin.

Happy gardening!

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

The Helpful Gardener
Posts: 7491
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2004 9:17 pm
Location: Colchester, CT

Cynthia is right about fertilizer; the "fungus" on your pot is excess salts leaching through the container from the soil...salt isn't good for plants but Miracle Grow is an ammonia salt. What's left after you use or gas off the ammonia? (and 50% washes through the soil anyway so you pollute the run-off with fertilizer that will cloud lakes and streams, even the ocean.)

Organic fetilizer is best for people, plants, and the environment.


User avatar
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25279
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

to grow container tomato in your climate will be a little challenging, but maybe doable. One piece of the problem is that containers dry out fast and tomatoes don't want to dry out. So a BIG container and preferably with some kind of self watering system, like you run a wick through your soil and then drape the wick into a bucket of water or the reservoir pots. Otherwise plan on watering it twice a day through the summer. The other thing is such fierce sun. You might want, in the hottest part of the summer to rig up some shade cloth (aka floating row cover) on a frame over your pots. It's designed to let rain and air through and some of the sun, but diffuse the light some. Otherwise think about timing... you have lots of good growing time in your climate, your seasons just aren't the same as ours in the middle of the country. I start tomato seeds in feb, to plant in the spring and grow through the summer into fall and be done when frost comes in October. You might be able to put out tomato plants in Jan and let them grow until July. Just give up on them when it gets too hot... I'm making all that up, I don't know really, just something to talk to an experienced local nursery-person about, what's the best timing....

Newly Registered
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 12:14 pm
Location: Los Angeles

Thanks you guys!

I did go to my library on the way home last night and picked up the book and WOW! So far it's the only book that I've found that actually makes sense and doesn't talk in foreign languages, so thank you thank you thank you for your suggestions.

My mother-in-law used to grow tomatoes by the billion on the property (as well as corn, sweet potatoes, peas, cheyote, etc.), but where she used to grow them isn't feasable for me (we have horrible neighbors with a million cats who like to use the "garden" where she'd grow her tomatoes as a toilet AND their kids like to steal the crops). Plus I don't know when she'd start her tomatoes - and when I ask her, I can't get a straight answer (she's getting older so sometimes conversations can go nowhere very quickly). So due to my work schedule and other limitations with awful neighbors, I have a semi-limited area to work with.

I'm going to try harder with the soil and get something better. I thought that Miracle-Gro was top-notch but after reading through as many resources as I could, I'm finding it's not as great as I thought it was.

So thank you guys for all your help... good thing its going to be a mild weekend, I'm excited to give it another shot.

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