Repotting my hibiscus

And, after a cold start to spring, forests of dill, and beans are on the way.

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To get the hibiscus to fit into the new pot, we trimmed the roots. — Photo by Susan Safford

It took me a long time to get my vegetable garden in hand this season. So cold, so dry — that is how we started in spring 2015. Now, as I brush off mosquitoes and concern myself with fungal and foliar problems, that seems far behind me, and I smile: “Be careful what you wish for.”

My brother sent me seed from the Netherlands for a bush bean, Naaldboon ‘Niki,’ a very fine, needlelike “haricot vert” type that I have sown and now eagerly await. Even the plants themselves are very attenuated. These will be for fresh table use. After a lengthy, cautious wait (beans dislike cold), I finally made a sowing of the wonderful pole bean ‘Fortex,’ and now the plants are in bloom. These are planned for supplying most of the freezer crop.

My mother, with a German background, loved the herb dill, pined for it, and prized it when, in the early ’50s, she could find it here. In my garden the onion plants started off with a bang; so did self-sown dillweed. I could only weed for a bit after work, and the onions were quickly overrun by the forest of dill.

It actually took me until July, carefully plucking to spare the onion plants, to clear all 15 rows of ‘Copra,’ and I fear that this season the quality will not be there. Many people have reported extraordinarily thick and vigorous dill this year. The easily leapt-to conclusion is that it had something to do with the winter conditions.

However — silver lining — when my daughter was here for a visit in early July, she commented on the numbers of pollinators in the vegetable garden. She said she does not see that level of pollinator activity in Charlottesville, where she tends a number of food gardens.

Of course, there are other plants in my garden, such as intentionally bolting lettuce, cilantro, radicchio, and leeks, with a lot to offer pollinators, but my daughter’s opinion is that in spring the umbellifers offer especially good pollinator support. These are plants, many of which are biennial and bloom the second year only, with a flower structure that can be described as umbrella-like; in addition to dill and cilantro, second-year parsley, carrots, and celery are examples. Instead of pulling, leave some to flower, not only for the myriad pollinators but also for seed production.

An unknown oregano variety with white flowers is big enough to season pizza for a village, more than we could ever use. We are happy to share: It is covered with bees, flies, and wasps of all descriptions, some so small as to be nearly invisible.

This plant is completely unremarkable and unshowy next to the brightly colored daylilies, phlox, and gladioli nearby, but probably does more for biodiversity and pollinator support in my garden than most of the real “lookers.”

Later in the season, the many flowers of the great Asteraceae (or Compositae) family, including — just a few names of the many — goldenrod, asters, sunflowers, and heliopsis, offer pollinators the pollen and nectar they require.

Repotting large plants

Most plant lovers acquire plants dear to them, and which (or “who”) need feeding, housing, and to be cared for, like old friends or other family members. I may have a few too many of these. The hybrid hibiscus standard ‘Kona’ has been with us since about 1983, and in the course of that time has inhabited several large pots. The primary risk with a tall plant that, like my hibiscus, spends the summer outside is blowing over in an unguarded, gusty moment. When it hits, the rim of the pot is apt to crack. Several years ago my hibiscus did just that, and the nice, rolled-rim pot developed a hairline fracture.

Repotting a large plant is an effortful endeavor; I put it off. I finally partially bit the bullet and bought a successor pot last fall, but procrastinated about performing The Act; the cracked pot seemed still so useful. The crack began to widen ….

What you see in the photo is when I could no longer wait; it took two of us, and a lot of lifting, tugging, and banging, but eventually the very potbound root ball released and slid out of the old pot, leaving it without further damage. (My husband promised to try thick epoxy on the cracked pot to see if we could save it for some other “old friend.”) The alternative is to take a hammer to the pot and bang it to pieces.

We want to avoid an endless increase in pot size; what happens next is that excess roots are pared away so that fresh soil can replace them, maintaining the root ball at current size. Take an old kitchen knife and cut and slice evenly, all around the root ball: rim, sides, and base. Try for about an inch increase in space all around. Then insert a thin, flat piece of wood, such as a yardstick, to tamp down new container mix and eliminate air pockets, all around the circumference.

Several heavy lifts later, in and out, and the fit was pretty good.

‘Foodscaping’

Lots of full-color photos and wonderful ideas in Charlie Nardozzi’s “Foodscaping” (Cool Springs Press, $24.99), make it a guide that it is not too late to follow. Whether you prefer a decorative garden alongside a driveway, in a front yard, or even the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street, there is something edible and handsome to plant. Especially useful for in-town lots in full sun, “Foodscaping” is stuffed with images and ideas that will assist you in achieving an exciting, dynamic garden you can eat out of.

This very nice manual sat on my book pile for far too long, having arrived after the critical moment in the season when sitting home and reading is past for me. Now, most food gardens have been planted and are yielding fresh, extremely local produce, but “Foodscaping” shows the way to continue expanding the available space in a thoughtful and beautiful way.