Every year, gardening in containers seems to grow in popularity. Perhaps it is because more and more people are coming to see the logic and savings in growing their own food. It might also be that, with the physical challenges some of us face with growing older, it’s not possible to kneel or bend as long as we need to like we used to. A lack of yard or garden space might also be contributing to the rise of container gardening’s popularity, with more folks gardening in containers on their apartment balconies, around their front or back porches or even on their rooftops. Or it could be that, psychologically, some of us just feel better when we are growing stuff, whether it is brilliantly hued flowers or tasty veggies, connecting us to the earth by the mere act of gardening. I know that sounds crazy, but I personally feel a lot better when I can garden.
I like to grow veggies mostly and for a couple of reasons. I want my veggies as fresh as possible and without having been subjected to a bath of chemicals and pesticides. I like to cook and having a selection of fresh herbs from which to choose is way for me to provide healthy and flavorful meals for my family.
But there are even more and better reasons to give container gardening a try, particularly with veggies. Properly grown and managed veggie plants in containers can, and often do, double their harvest for you than those grown with more traditional methods. When growing in containers, you have control of the growing medium and can provide the best available for your plants.
There is also the beauty factor. Suitable containers are available in many materials, sizes, shapes and colors. As mentioned above, you may want containers due to limited space, for the great harvests, because you can move things around if need be, for convenience because you won’t be bending or kneeling to tend them, to protect your plants from marauding deer (although I know someone who pretty much runs a salad bar for them on her back porch) or for their visual value.
When considering your containers, look at half-barrels, baskets, boxes, buckets, sacks, tubs and tanks. Make sure that adequate drain holes are provided; if not, you can make them yourself.
When the temperatures reach 85 degrees, or higher, the containers should be located in part shade for some of the day and should be provided with some elevation. Frames on the ground, hanging your plants, if possible, upside down pots or even wood pallets from the local building supply house are all good choices.
Container size is a consideration depending on what you wish to grow. Beets, carrots, radishes, lettuces and spring onions all do well in a one gallon container. Kale and chard also do well in containers of this size. Three to five gallon containers work well for bush beans, mustard and other greens of that type and peppers. Go five gallons for other medium size plants and up to twenty gallons for plants with large root systems. For tomatoes and squashes, bigger is better.
What you ultimately choose to grow your plants in is the key. The potting mix has a huge effect on growth and ultimately harvest. Get the potting mix you can find. The potting mix needs to be able to retain moisture and nutrients, but still have suitable drainage. It also should be disease and weed free, lightweight and not contain any soil from your yard. It should be soaked completely before setting any plant or seeds.
Growing plants in containers is a great way to add color to your yard, experiment with different plants, or enjoy plants in an area you couldn’t otherwise have a full garden. But for those who want to keep their gardening techniques organic, there are a few tips that will help your container gardens grow successfully!
Buy the right-sized plants. Be sure to match fast growing plants with large enough containers. That way they have room to grow and won’t need to be transplanted later in the season.
Match care and sun needs. This will help prevent disease, pest, or stressed-out plants in your container garden. It is common for beginning organic gardeners to make the mistake of grabbing any plants they think will look good together. However, if you plant a plant that needs drier soil, right next to a plant that needs constant moisture, it generally won’t end well. The same goes for sun requirements - plant only full-sun plants in a container that will be in full-sun.
Feed more frequently with an organic fertilizer. Containers have a limited amount of soil so it is important that they are fed frequently. Fast-growing or plants grown for their large foliage may need even more frequent feeding than usual. Fish emulsion, compost tea, worm castings and other organic soil amendments could all be used.
Water more frequently. Because of the limited space and increased evaporation container gardens tend to dry out much more quickly. Hanging baskets and coconut fiber porch rail baskets will dry out even faster! As a result they need more frequent watering to keep plants healthy.
Bigger is better. When it comes to a container, bigger is better. Everything is limited for these plants already - food, water, space, nutrients. The more room you can give your plants, the better.
Choose your soil wisely. If you have it available, you can put pure compost in your containers. It’s organic, healthy, full of nutrients and as rich as it can be right from the start. If you select a pre-mixed container or potting mix, make sure you select something that is organic.
Growing plants in containers is the perfect way to extend your garden to new areas. It doesn’t have to be complicated with a few of these simple tips and tricks.