planting in pipes

Jim McKenney
Sun, 07 Jun 2009 10:22:51 PDT
Diane, I can think of several things pipes are good for. 


For instance, old vegetable gardening books sometimes describe the lengths
growers will go to to get exhibition sized parsnips and carrots, among
others. They grow them in pipes filled with carefully prepared soil. That
suggests to me that if there is some bulbous plant which does not develop
particularly well on your local soil, grow it in a pipe filled with a
special mixture. 


Another thing pipes are good for, although I not sure how to translate this
to bulb culture, is restraining those plants which spread too vigorously by
stolons and rhizimes. Here I've used something like pipes for certain mints
which I want, but want on my terns, not theirs. If you want the more
rampageous crocosmias, but you don't want them all over the place, pipe
culture might be the answer. 


Another possible use of pipes would be to grow those bulbs which do not
bloom well until confined, either pot bound or in the ground. One which
comes to mind immediately is Tulipa saxatilis. But for this I think you
would need pipes deeper that 30 cm. 


One other thing which they might be useful for: some lilies, such as Lilium
nepalense, wander underground and typically emerge far from their labels.
Pipe culture might help with this. But again, I think you'll need pipes
deeper than 30 cm for such plants. 


And then there is this: if you like to grow showy bulbs among herbaceous
perennials and shrubs, especially tender bulbs, growing them in pipes will
make their extraction at the end of the season a lot easier. Although I
don't use pipes for this purpose, I do get a similar result by using plastic
baskets. Pipes would have the advantage of keeping the root system of the
bulbs separate from those of nearby plants - at least to the depth of the
pipe. The baskets I use (they were manufactured for use as fruit baskets; I
have two sizes, one corresponding more or less to a typical gallon pot, the
other to perhaps a five gallon pot) have openings on the sides and bottom
and so do not keep the roots confined at all, but the bulb is always where
it's supposed to be. 


One final idea: use the pipes for those plants which require an extremely
well-drained medium. You can fill the pipe with gravel for really moisture
sensitive plants. 


I would have used pipes and chimney flues long ago except for the expense.


When I first started to grow modern hybrid lilies decades agp, I planted all
of them (they were all de Graaff hybrids which were - deservedly - all the
rage back then) I planted them in home-made square-sided wooden columns
which were roughly six or so inches on each side and about thirty inches
long. This allowed me to provide the lilies with a deep root run of
carefully prepared soil without the expense of preparing the entire bed. It
worked very well, although my lily growing friends found it amusing. 


Here’s another thing I’ve long dreamed about: gather together as many pipes
as you can, then set them one-by-one vertically in the ground so that they
are as close together as possible but stick out of the ground at varying
heights. If you have a part of the garden which seems to call for some sort
of low separation, arrange the pipes so that they for the required fence or
barrier. Now fill the pipes with a suitable medium and plant each one with a
choice Sempervivum, Sedum, Delospermum, Dianthus or any other plants which
are nice to look at all season. Tuck in a few bubbly things with each of
these for seasonal color. Then sit back and enjoy our handiwork. 


And here’s one other thing pipes might be good for, although I prefer short
lengths of pcv pipe for this purpose. Use these pipes as pots for sowing
plants with long tap roots which do not transplant easily (poppies, for
instance). When you are ready to plant the plants into the garden, either
sink the entire pipe or sink the pipe and then very carefully draw it out,
leaving the plant in place. This technique will allow you to place these
plants where you want them rather than having to accept them where they
germinate when they are sown broadcast. 


I think I've only touched the surface of the possibilities here. Pipes are
one of those things I’ve day dreamed about a lot. Obviously I’ve had lots of
pipe dreams. 


 Let's see what others come up with. 


Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden



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