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Spring On A Balcony

September 14, 1986|ROBERT SMAUS

Fall planting does not have to be in the ground. The bulbs and other flowers planted at this time of the year do just as well in pots and it can even be argued that some do better.

Freesias for instance tend to topple when planted in the ground and end up with their pretty faces in the mud. But in a container, they can lean this way and that and it only adds to their charm. And there is no getting down on hands and knees to enjoy their delightful fragrance if you set the pot up on a ledge, bench or railing.

Freesias are probably Elizabeth Stopol's favorite fall-planted bulb and her garden (pictured here) is a convincing example of what can be done at this time of the year so that spring can be savored even on a balcony.

So how does one get started? By purchasing pots of a suitable size. If there is any secret to growing bulbs and flowers in containers it is in the size of the pots. Notice that only succulents grow in small pots on the Stopol balcony. Eight inches is the minimum for flowers and most are a foot or more across. Depth is less important, especially for bulbs, and one of the favored pots for bulbs is called a "bulb pan." You'll find these at nurseries; look for wide pots that are only four to five inches deep. These proportions allow you to mass the bulbs.

Bulbs, and other flowers to a lesser extent, can be planted very close together in a container, almost touching. With bulbs, ignore the recommended planting depth and plant them barely beneath the potting soil (daffodils should actually have their necks out of the soil).

Because you are packing so many plants into such a small place, fertilizing becomes important. Begin with a good commercial potting mix, which will include some fertilizer, and then add, as a booster, a slow-release type of fertilizer such as Osmocote. This will carry the plants through their season. Though the directions call for simply sprinkling it on top, many gardeners have found that it works even better mixed into the potting soil before planting.

Annual flowers should be watered often at first, as often as every day. It's almost impossible to overdo it during the first few weeks. Bulbs on the other hand should be throughly watered, then kept barely moist until they push up out of the soil. Otherwise they may rot.

Almost anything you can find at a nursery at this time of the year will thrive in a container but you might search out some of the bulbs that are native to South Africa, including babiana, freesia, homeria, ixia, lachenalia, sparaxis and tritonia. These do especially well in pots and you don't have to toss them out after they flower. When the leaves turn brown, set the pots out of the way where the bulbs will remain cool and dry for the summer, then bring them out next fall and begin watering--and back they'll come.

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