Gardening at a Rental House

April 17, 2008


I've recently moved into a new house and last Sunday I started cleaning out my front flower bed. Come to find out its full ofgravel! I've been told not to worry, to just put down top soil. I'vealso been told to sift the gravel out. The soil is also super silty.

I've also started morning glory, sunflower, zinnias, moon flowers, and salvia seeds. They are all planted in regular soil from my garden(minus the gravel) in an egg crate in my kitchen. Can I water themwith Miracle Gro to help them along, or will that burn them? I knowmorning glory is voracious, but I've got trellises and the time to cutthem back when needed.

Also, any idea for a small colorful (preferably blooming) tree I canplant in a very large barrel for my front yard? I'm a renter but I'dlike to have a pretty little tree.

Hardiness Zone: 10a

Marisa from Santa Maria, California


Hi Marisa,

As long as you loosen up the layer of gravel and put down 8-12 inches of topsoil, you should not have to worry about removing the gravel to plant some annuals. I would be careful with using Miracle Gro on small seedlings, though. Fertilizing is easy to overdo, especially on delicate seedlings. You're better off waiting until your seedlings develop their second set of true leaves before you start feedings. And even then, I would start with a diluted (half strength) fertilizer and work up to full strength if they don't seem to be responding.


You mentioned you have silty soil. This kind of soil offers good drainage, but also tends to contain more nutrients and holds moisture better than sandy soil. If you mix some good quality compost in with your topsoil, your plants should have more than enough nutrients to get off to a good start. Annuals do need more frequent feeding than perennials because they expend all of their energy in one season. You can either apply a slow release fertilizer (dry) early in the season or feed plants with a liquid soluble fertilizer (like seaweed extract or fish emulsion) every 2-3 weeks. In either case, just follow the directions carefully and you should be fine.

If you are using an organic fertilizer on annuals, plan to apply it three or four times each season. Annuals like geraniums, impatiens and "wave" petunias need to be fed once a week for peak performance. Water plants the day before you plan to fertilize. Carefully follow all the directions on the package and try to spread the fertilizer evenly. Water dry fertilizers immediately applying them to "activate" them and settle them into the soil. Also keep in mind that fertilizers will leach more quickly through sandy soils than through heavy, clay soils.


As for small trees, I would contact a local nursery and tell them what you are looking for. Even a small tree can be a large investment, so make sure you select a species that will have the best chance for success. Most quality nurseries grow both full-sized trees and specimens suited for large containers. They should have many good suggestions for you.

Above all, don't forget to contact your landlord to get written permission before you alter any landscaping.


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