Container gardening is a useful method of growing both edibles and ornamentals when you have little or no yard, have compromised soil or simply enjoy the freedom to move your plants from place to place. It is an ideal technique for those in urban situations, such as apartments.|
One of the biggest bonuses to container gardening is that you get to skip the backbreaking work of weeding and amending soil. Container gardening can include traditional pots, window boxes, hanging baskets or little planters in a window sill. Get creative with your space and experiment with different placement options, such as on a balcony or porch, around a deck or even on a rooftop.
Gather Your Gear
Very little gear is needed for container gardening. Standard gardening tools include gloves, a trowel and a hand fork. For larger plants that require pruning, a good pair of shears or kitchen scissors are helpful. Always keep your tools clean and blades sharp for easy cutting.
Another important thing you will need is potting mix, which is available at any nursery or home improvement store. Use potting soil rather than soil from the ground, as potting soil has water retentive elements (such as peat moss or vermiculite), is free from weeds or disease and contains a balance of nutrients ideal for plants. Most potting soils are ''soil-less.'' Some are specific for seed starting or acidified for specialty plants, but many are all-purpose and are suitable for most types of containers and plants.
Pick Your Plants
Many edible plants can be grown in containers. Potted herbs are a popular choice and can be placed in a sunny window or even on a patio. Herbs are compact, so they can easily be grown in a small space. Try chives, mint, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and more. You can even grow fruit trees in containers. Dwarf varieties of trees, such as orange, fig, apple and pear, can (with some effort) grow in large containers. These usually need to be protected or brought inside during the winter. Strawberries are another fruit easily grown in a pot; there are even special terra cotta pots with holes in them that are widely available. If vegetables are what you want, try greens such as arugula, lettuces, swiss chard and spinach. Smaller varieties of tomatoes, peas, pole beans, bush zucchini and peppers can also be grown successfully with some staking or trellis for them to climb.
Your first consideration for any garden project should be location: specifically, sunlight and exposure. Container-grown plants tend to dry and wilt more quickly than plants in the ground. Once you’ve identified where you intend to put your containers, observe the amount and strength of sunlight. Does the space get full afternoon sun, or dappled shade? Is the area near a wall or blacktop, which increases ambient temperature? Will your containers sit outdoors in the rain, or on a covered porch or patio?
Porches and patios might be the expected spots for container gardening, but here are some other ideas.
Choose the Right Plants
If you fancy a vegetable garden, choose plants that are specifically developed for containers, like "patio" varieties of tomato, zucchini, cucumber and peppers. Match your plant selection to your location as well. Plants labeled ''full sun'' require at least six hours per day of direct sunlight. Consider the depth of the container and the plant’s root system (carrots, for example, don’t do well in standard pots, but lettuce does). If your budget allows for many plants, go ahead and pack them into the containers to create a lush, full look.
Choose Your Containers
There are numerous types of containers, each with pros and cons. On one end of the financial spectrum you have plastic containers that are light and cheap, but might not capture the aesthetic you're going for. Compare that to stone or marble, which are gorgeous and sturdy, but are as hefty in price as they are to move around the garden. You need a vessel that has enough space for the roots of your plant, proper nutrients to feed your plant and drainage holes to allow for excess moisture to flow out to prevent waterlogged roots. Additionally, consider where this container is going. For example, if you are putting it on a rooftop or in a windowsill, choose something light. Be aware that some containers such as terra cotta can retain heat quickly, so extra watering may be necessary.
And don't be afraid to get creative! Containers of various shapes, colors and sizes add visual interest to a conventional backyard landscape. Here are some fun ideas for unusual and interesting garden containers.
Reuse (upcycle) items that you’d ordinarily throw away when they’re empty or broken:
Think of the items you use to hold stuff elsewhere in your home—if you have extra bins, boxes or buckets, repurpose them in the garden. Even things like rubber rain boots your kids have outgrown make cute planters.
Over- or under-watering is the No. 1 cause of plant failure—and growing in containers exacerbates the problem. Plants must never sit in accumulated water. If you’re using alternative containers, make sure there is ample drainage. This can be a real challenge if, for example, you’re using an old enamel washbasin, glass jar or china soup tureen. If possible, drill or punch several holes in the bottom of your container. If drilling holes in the container doesn’t seem like such a good idea, place nursery pots inside the planter (instead of planting directly in it) and be sure to pour out the excess every time you water.
Use these proven techniques to properly water plants growing in containers:
Choose a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer that you can add to your watering can. For continuous feeding to produce steady growth and bloom, mix at 1/10th the recommended rate every time you water.
Once you have your plants, location, and containers, the sky's the limit! Start out small with easy-to-grow plants and build from there. Soon, you'll have a new hobby that brings you joy as well as good health. Happy container gardening!