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Spring fever

Contain it with indoor and outdoor blooms
by: Mikel Kelly, African violets like plenty of indirect sunlight, says Mara Woloshin, holding an especially gargantuan example of the plant which stays inside the house, against a good-sized window.

After a wet, cold Oregon winter, spring should be greeted with joy and anticipation. Sometimes, the only thing that gets us through February and March is knowing that better days are on the way. But when, exactly, does spring get here? The weather folks will tell you that spring starts on the vernal equinox - the day when the number of hours of daylight is equal to the number of hours of night. This year it fell on March 20. The problem is, the man or woman on the nightly weather report has it all wrong.

Seasons aren't about the sun in the sky; they're about the weather. Daylight isn't the issue, temperature is what counts. Which is why one of the best ways to feed that spring gardening itch is to work with containers. Start indoors and then, as temperatures rise, move those plants outside. Mid-April is really when things get growing in our area.

I live on a 10,000-square-foot lot in the Southwest hills, yet most of my garden is containerized. This ranges from run-of-the-mill African violets to tulips, winter-hearty fuchsias, blueberry bushes, apple trees, tropical plants, honeysuckle, orchids, lemon and orange trees and a 14-foot-high parlor palm. In addition to the honeysuckle and trees, outdoor container plants that return year after year also include tulips, lilies, pansies, violets and fuschas.

Annual vegetable crops that are both beautiful and do well in containers include corn, tomatoes, gourds, mini pumpkins, sugar peas, scarlet runner beans, nasturtiums and sunflowers.

According to Jennifer Myers of J2Design in Beaverton, container plants can be a decorator's best friend. Either long-term or short-term (for those with a black thumb), they are an inexpensive easy way to add color and classic design to your home.

Here are some compelling reasons to consider containers as part of your springtime activies.

n First of all, they are they are one of the cheapest decorating tricks in town. And they are weed-free. If you don't want to plant them yourself, most common container plants can be purchased from $9 to $30 at local markets.

n Seeds are even cheaper, and seeds in containers automatically win the war against slugs.

n Container gardening plants can be had free. Spread the word that you are interested. Neighbors and friends will gladly give you cuttings - fuchsia stems, African violet leaves, multiplying bulbs, violet seeds, sunflower seeds and strawberry offshoots are often available. Just let folks know you are interested.

n An investment in 12 color-coordinated pots from 9 inches in diameter to massive pots can, with careful shopping, be purchased for around $200. Make sure all pots have drainage.

n Containers are typically sold with matching dishes, but clear plastic water-catching dishes are also sold separately for as little as 59 cents to $2.

n Invest another $75 for at least nine mobile stands. Good stands are wood or metal, are about 4 inches high and available in diameters to fit your pots with water-catching dishes. Make sure they come with good, solid casters or rollers. Outside container plants should never touch decking and indoor plants should never touch your floors. Plants need the air circulation, and you don't need the moss and rot.

n A recent gift by the gardening industry to the container gardener is fiberglass and plastic pots that are beautiful and lightweight.

n Container plans save time and water. Success is easy, especially using a controlled released fertilizer like Osmocote. A great list of organic controlled release fertilizers are at doityourself.com. This is also a great first stop for springtime chores and home improvements.

n Container plants are spectacular. If fed and watered, container plants pay you back 10 times in kind. They can be rotated according to season keeping the interior and exterior of your home colorful and interesting.

Easy, but still . . .

n They are beautiful, but remember, container plants are still living plants. Care is easy, but neglect of basics can be lethal.

n Put them where they belong. More delicate plants, like fuchsias need attention to light and sun exposure. Look at your interior and exterior in terms of light (and that may change as spring turns into summer) and purchase accordingly.

n Long-term plants, like trees, need soil attention. Standing outside through winter means depletion of essential minerals and nutrients. Don't replace the soil - replenish it. Read and know your fertilizers.

n The easiest way to go is to buy one balance fertilizer it should say 12-12-12 on the label and a nitrogen booster for leafy plans and a phosphorus booster (like bone meal) for flowering plans.

n Don't forget to feed (and water). The tried and true finger test for dry soil works great. A feeding schedule, even with timed released fertilizers must be maintained.

What to plant now?

n Vegetables (but only a few seeds per pot).

n Cutting and clippings of all kinds.

n Fruit trees, blueberry bushes.

n Gladiolas, lilies and dahlias for later blooms in summer.