Container Gardening

Category:  Home and Garden
Description:  No room to garden? Need to brighten up a deck, patio, or indoor living area? Then add container gardening to your bucket list. It's simple.
Author: Lori Beehner
Sunday, April 14, 2013

A container garden can fit in just about any space. It is easy to care for and can provide that splash of color you need. Container gardens work well for growing food too, and as a special bonus, you will receive the benefit of more breathable air if you decide to grow your garden indoors.

First, choose your container.

Do you want your containers to blend or contrast with their surroundings? Think about their color, texture, and style. Select several containers and set them in their location. This step is much like painting a background on a canvass.

Will you need to lift and move the containers? Some plants need to be moved indoors during hot or cold weather. If that is the case, make sure you can move the pots and have a designated place to store them during increment weather. You can also put smaller pots inside larger containers so the pot can be removed and the container can remain in place, and allowing you to swap out plants more easily.

Do you want pots made of clay, wood, plastic, ceramic, stone, or a unique novelty item? Be careful to choose to appropriate container material. In the outdoors, some un-sealed ceramics will chip and disintegrate when the temperature goes below freezing as water penetrates and then freezes and expands. Wooden containers may rot over time if not well treated.

Next, choose the plants.

You have a huge selection, as many thousands of plants will grow well in pots and containers. Geraniums are a common container plant, as are sedums, Japanese maples, fuchsia, jasmine, and basil. Consider some less expected things such as tall grasses, sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, peas, lettuce, cabbage, kale, garlic, onion. Why not grow herbs in amongst your flowers and foliage?

You are the artist. Balance tall with short, sturdy with floppy, colorful blooms with dense vegetation. Have some leaves dangle below the rim of the container or extend beyond its borders. Do not crowd the container when planting, as the plants will need some room to grow, but do try to give each pot a small variety. Containers generally look best when they show off both texture and color variations.

Some plants MUST be in containers due to their invasive nature. Examples are bamboo, mint, ivy, crocosmia (see our blog about environmentally correct planting), and some euonymus. Having a pot of mint near your kitchen is a wonderful scent of an idea. Other plants, such as basil or cilantro, benefit from container gardening also -- a plant that is dangling in the air, for example, is much harder for the herds of Seattle slugs to completely annihilate overnight. (You can tell I have learned my lesson the hard way!)

Some people swear by upside down container gardening and have great success with tomatoes, tomatillos, peas, beans, not to mention all manner of flowers.

Now, pamper your container garden.

Container gardens will dry out faster than a garden bed – especially an indoor container or sheltered container that does not normally receive rain. Water the plants when the top inch of dirt is dry. Some plants like having “soggy feet” and some like their soil just damp. (Try to keep opposing plants in separate pots so everyone stays happy.)

The soil is important for plant health. Plants that like to be wet may prefer soil mixed with peat moss; a desert dweller will likely prefer more sand than peat in its mix. Some bagged potting soils come with a water absorbing crystals mixed in. These crystals can hold 20 times their own weight in water and release it slowly. You can add these crystals to existing potting soil too (but be careful not to add too many crystals, a little goes a long way). This is a good choice of soil amendment if the container garden is outdoor and subject to the sun. In our Seattle climate, we might not be expecting the sun...then suddenly a week of hot summer weather will descend upon us and bake the container garden that is not prepared.

Feeding container gardens with a fertilizer or compost tea is necessary too as the biomass of the container garden is tiny in comparison to your standard outdoor garden bed. Container gardens tend to “work” all year long and do not have the luxury of a rest period like garden beds, which build up food for plants by breaking down old growth. Be careful to feed judiciously -- over-fertilizing will cause burning and ultimate death to the container plant. Even if your plant's name is Seymour, feed not more than once a week with water.

Ahh...take a deep breath and enjoy your potted garden!

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