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Connect with Nature: Sustainable Container Gardening with Diana Russo

POSTED UNDER By Our Associates

Attendance Coordinator Diana Russo manages schedules and attendance in her role at Macy’s Credit and Customer Services (MCCS), but during her time off, she manages something else entirely. Russo is a dedicated container gardener, with an intense focus on sustainability. “It’s important to grow our own food. It helps us understand our individual part in the environment, and it really helps us understand the value of food.”

She sees gardening as an opportunity to educate kids about where food comes from, too. “If they’ve never been exposed to gardening or farming, they often think that food comes from the grocery store. A garden is a chance to show them how it works and help them understand the effort that goes into it.”

One of the best things about container gardening, she says, is that, “It’s something anyone can do – even in a small space.” Russo’s garden consists of three waist-high garden boxes approximately 3’ x 4.’ She plants a variety of produce, as well as herbs and marigolds, which offer natural pest protection – including keeping garden-decimating pests like squirrels and rabbits away.

The secret to a small garden is planting multiple plants in the same space – as long as they’re complementary. “Green beans and tomatoes both grow up a vine, and they use different nutrients. That makes them good companion plantings.” Russo has some other tips for successful container gardening, as well. “Don’t use the same soil year after year in your containers,” she says. “It’s important to have fresh soil, because plants need specific nutrients, and some can’t be added through composting.”

Composting is a critical source for garden nutrients, and an essential ingredient in her recommended soil blend: a mix of vermiculite, compost and soil. She avoids commercial soil because of the potential for additives. “I want it to be as natural as possible – we need to be aware of what chemicals are being added to the food we eat.” She’s also researched watering her garden more sustainably, including looking into collecting rainwater for irrigation.

Nature is also her primary source for pest control. In addition to helpful plants like herbs and marigolds, Russo encourages natural predators, such as grasshoppers and ladybugs, which go a long way toward controlling Japanese beetles and other garden pests. “If you have an ant problem, plant nasturtiums. They attract aphids, which are like cattle for ants. They’ll pay attention to the aphids and leave everything else alone; it’s a great alternative to poison.”

With Macy’s for nearly 10 years, Russo is an active member of the MCCS Clearwater Go Green ERG, and participated in the development of the award-winning sustainable garden MCCS created last year. She remains active in its care and maintenance, too: “We’re planning to add vegetables to the garden this year, and we’ve also received a donation of banana trees which we’ll be adding to the garden.” The garden also features a lemon tree, which she proudly notes has produced its first lemon.

The planting season in Florida is somewhat different than in other areas of the country, says Russo. “We plant mostly in fall, winter and spring – not much in summer when it’s so hot – it’s harder to get things to grow.”

Regardless of the growing season, Russo believes anyone can be a successful gardener. For the novice that wants to start with something easy, she recommends peppers and tomatoes. “They grow well in containers, and you can buy starter plants at garden centers if you’re not confident about growing them from seed.” Herbs are also very easy, she says, as they need just water and lots of light. It also helps to prevent them from flowering, because it tends to shift the flavor. She recommends pinching the flower buds as they develop.

As we head into the spring growing season, it’s the perfect time to try your hand at container gardening. Give it a try, and then tell us how it goes. We want to hear from you!


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