But being a gardener, I just had to grow something. I filled up every available window with house plants and even grew cherry tomatoes in a south facing window. That was in the guest room, however, and it took up all the space normally devoted to guest luggage, though my guests did enjoy the fresh tomatoes.
Last year I tried hanging baskets and found that even though the critters didn’t get them, they dried out really fast in regular old potting soil and wire baskets lined with fiber mats. We often have humidity less than 10% here, a big change from the almost 100% we frequently had in Texas. My deck got really warm in the day time because of heat reflecting up from the surface, but down in the 50’s (F) at night, so I had to find plants that like heat in the day, with cool temperatures at night. So I started doing some reading on dry climate or high altitude gardening and came up with a different approach for this summer. I found a good book for gardening above 6500 feet, Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains, and it has become a go to for me when I have questions about what to do.
I’m starting with petunias because they like heat, are pretty tough, do well with minimal care and seem to be fine with the cool nights. An added plus is that you can buy them just about anywhere, in a variety of colors, and we have limited options in this little rural town. I’m using the same baskets, but this time I am looking for a planting mix that will have maximum water holding capacity, but be light enough that I can lift the basket up or down without having to spend quality time on Mr. Bowflex. With a little searching, I found a good article on Peat-Lite mixes from Cornell University Extension and decided to use one of their recommended mixes for potted plants.
I did a couple of test baskets by mixing two parts sphagnum moss (by volume) with one part perlite. I also lined the baskets with 6 mm plastic and put a three pencil size holes in the very bottom to keep from having soggy plant feet. I planted the two baskets, hung them on the deck and checked them daily to see how the moisture levels were holding up. Then something unexpected happened. We were evacuated for the Little Bear Fire.
My mom had given me some herbs potted in regular potting soil in plastic pots and I had put them on the front porch, where they were shaded except for late afternoon, and watered them well on that Friday (June 8). I also watered my hanging baskets on the back deck, where they were in sun a good bit of the day on the east side of the house. Saturday morning we were evacuated and we did not get home until Wednesday night. The first thing I did was check my outside plants. The peat moss/perlite baskets were happy and healthy with no wilting and there was moisture in the basket when I did the finger test (stick finger in soil about one inch). The herbs in potting soil were all severely wilted, I feared past the permanent wilting point, but I watered them anyway and they did come back, but with a few damaged stems. Those will have to be pruned. While this is not a very scientific test, I’m convinced it is a worthwhile exercise in low humidity gardening and will be testing it again with a little more control.