| Give ‘em the Finger! |
Thats the way to treat potted plants, according to Conrad Richter.
Richter runs, with his family, a well-known herb emporium north east of Toronto and he’s always advocating the finger test for gardeners.
Want to find out when a pot needs watering? he asked a rapt crowd at Canada Blooms recently. Simple. Just do this. He poked his index finger in the soil to a depth of about an inch. "If it feels dry down there, water. If its damp, dont.
The right amount of moisture is more crucial for plants in containers than for those growing in the garden, Richter explains. Most people make the mistake of either not watering enough (so the roots dry out) or they overdo things (so the roots rot). This is particularly true for herbs.
Most herbs are easy to grow in pots and they’re great for apartment balconies, he says, but they do need lots of moisture.
Instead of daily dribbles from a watering can, Richter recommends a deep soaking so that the entire soil mass gets wet once a week. He scoffs at gadgets like moisture meters (They’re a waste of money) and advises gardeners to steer clear of those pretty ceramic pots that don’t have drainage holes.
Both a botanist (he has a master’s degree) and horticulturist, Richter knows his subject inside out. The family business, started by his parents in l967, now grows and sells an astounding 800 varieties of herbs. Wander around their greenhouses in Goodwood, Ontario at this time of year and you can get a whiff of everything from Julia Childs Sweet Citrus Mint to African Blue Basil. Theyre all planted in little green pots, neatly arranged on racks, awaiting the spring onslaught of customers.
The orgy of scents from hundreds of plants is exhilarating. Sweet, spicy, cloying, fruity, fresh, you name it, Richter likes burying his nose in them too. In fact, he thinks the therapeutic value of fragrance is under-appreciated..
A plant with a pleasing perfume never fails to lifts our spirits, he points out. Thats as important as using a herb to make medicine.
His personal favourites among the collection are Orange Spice Thyme (We developed it ourselves and it has a wonderful smell) and scented geraniums.
But whether gardeners opt to grow herbs for the kitchen, to relieve aches and pains or simply to sniff now and then, Richter says the TLC requirements remain the same.
To gain a green thumb, you gotta give your potted plants the finger.