Container Gardening Basics
By Elizabeth Jean
What's A Container Garden?Tomatoes (especially cherry)
Spring onions, shallots, etc
Ever since the 1950s, it has been increasingly popular to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers on a small scale in large pots - containers! A container garden is simply a garden planted in containers, whether small or large, indoors or outdoors. You might have a porch, patio, balcony, stair case, windowsills or roof top that you would like to bring some life and color to - all of these are ideal opportunities for a container garden.
What Can Be Grown In A Container Garden?
The short answer to this question is almost anything, in moderation. It is possible to grow a vast range of plants in a well-planned container garden, and while it might not be possible to be completely self-sufficient (if that is your aim), you can certainly grow a useful amount of food in a few containers.
As you are likely to be limited for space, it is even more important than usual to start out with a clear plan for your container garden and to know where you are going to put each plant - some will need deeper, larger, wider or longer containers than others!
Fruit and Vegetables
It is possible to grow a surprisingly wide variety of vegetables in a container garden, often in quite modestly-sized containers. Look for plants that grow upwards, don't require a huge root space and have a reasonable yield per square foot of ground space.
Examples of plants that grow well in containers in a temperate climate are:
Examples that the author has had reliable success with are:
Many people simply wish to add some color and decoration to their limited outdoor space. Containers are perfect for many types of flower - the best choices for you will depend on the location of the container and the climate where you live, but some good starting points might be:
How to Choose Containers
Containers come in all shapes and sizes, from small pots that can sit on the corner of a desk to permanent installations that can be built into your patio or yard. They can be made of a range of materials, too:
Plastic planters and window boxes are readily and cheaply available in a variety of sizes. While plastic pots don't quite have the visual appeal of ceramic or wooden containers, plastic is certainly practical and plastic containers are very suitable for use in a container garden.
Clay / Terracotta / Glazed Ceramic Containers
One of the most attractive and traditional materials for plant containers is clay. Clay pots come in all shapes and sizes, and many people find they have a visual appeal that plastic lacks.
On the other hand, they are much more expensive, breakable and heavy. Additionally, if they are not glazed, clay vessels are porous, so moisture escapes through the surface of the pot (not just through the holes in the base). This means that plants in clay containers will need watering a little more often than those in plastic.
The other principle material used to make plant containers is wood. Wooden containers have the advantage that they can easily be custom-made to fit into odd-shaped or large spaces - something not true of clay or plastic. In addition, wood can be stained or finished to match the wooden decking of a patio or porch, or perhaps the railings of a balcony.
When buying or constructing wooden containers, it is important to remember a few points:
Don't stain or finish the wood with creosote - it's toxic to plants
Try and use hardwoods like redwood or cedar - softer woods will rot easily
It's All In the Soil
When creating a container garden, it is important to create the right kind of soil. In most cases, soil straight from the garden won't do, especially if it is a clay soil, which doesn't drain well.
For smaller containers, the easiest way to get suitable soil is to buy some bags of potting soil from your local garden center. This should be light, loamy and ideally have some peat in it.
If you need a larger amount of soil, try making it yourself with equal parts of sand, loamy garden soil and peat moss - this should save some money over large quantities of potting soil.
Watering, Drainage and Nutrition
Most containers should have some drainage holes in their bases - if not, then you either need to create some holes or else pot the plant in another container that does have holes and then place this inside the un-drained container.
If the containers are standing on a solid surface - concrete, for example - it helps to raise them a few centimeters off the ground in order to allow water to drain freely from the base. It's important to prevent your plants becoming waterlogged.
Plants being grown in containers inevitably do not get quite as much nutrition as those in the ground, and so it is important to fertilize or feed your plants on a regular basis - dilute mixtures of seaweed-based plant food can be applied every two or three days, for example, or fertilizer can be added to the soil every couple of weeks.
Container gardens are an extremely flexible and satisfying way of making use of a small amount of space, and they can be surprisingly productive. Getting the best from your environment will require a little experimentation, but you will probably be surprised at the speed and quality of the results you can achieve.
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