Container Gardening

by Mira Dessy

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Container Gardening

Many of our readers have sent in questions regarding how to garden in smaller spaces. Some are apartment dwellers, some don't have much of a yard. For any gardener, for these gardeners especially, container gardening is an ideal way to go.

Container gardening is beneficial for a number of reasons. If you have limited space they don't take up much room. If you have limited mobility they raise the garden to a higher level so that you can reach it more easily. If you have limited time container gardening can be perfect because each container doesn't require as much effort as a large garden plot. Container gardens are portable (for those plants such as rosemary which need to come in every winter), and can be easily rearranged to 'resculpt' your garden should you so desire. If you don't have a patio, balcony, or other space for your contained garden consider the use of window boxes (inside or outside) or hanging baskets. Obviously not everything that can be grown in a large container (such as dwarf fruit trees) is suitable for these containers, but herbs, some fruits (such as strawberries), and some vegetables (lettuce, perhaps a bean plant, a dwarf pepper plant) will grow in these containers.

What type of container do you use? Well, that mostly depends on what you like and what you want to put into it. The points to keep in mind are: the size of the plant, does the container have appropriate drainage (if not either drill a hole for drainage or get one deep enough to put a good layer of gravel on the bottom), will the pot be left outside in the winter (if so terra cotta is not a good choice because it will crack). Container choice is mostly aesthetics or availability once you have determined the needs of the plant. Don't forget that one way to increase space when you garden in a container is to go vertical. There are special stands that you can buy (or make) that sit firmly in one container and contain either a hook or a fitted space to put another container in. You can also put a trellis behind your container to allow things that need to climb someplace to go.

As with soil gardening (my term to define the difference) you still need to make sure that you are using adequate soil and that the plants get appropriate water and nutrition. Just because you are planting in a container doesn't mean that you don't need to pay attention to the soil requirements of the individual (or grouped) plants. However, there are several things that you can do to and/or with the soil to improve your success. There are several products on the market that can be added to the soil before the plants are put into the container that are water release products. The product holds 5-8 times it's weight in water and releases the water slowly, helping to keep the soil moist. One source of this is Gardener's Supply which is available by catalog or on the internet.

Another product which I have heard about but not seen are soil protectors. These are bits of pottery which are shaped like leaves and can be placed on top of the soil to help slow down the rate at which it dries out. As a frugal alternative you can either put broken bits of pottery on top or some sort of organic mulch. This is especially crucial for those contained gardens that are going to be in a very sunny area.

If you are planning to use your container garden to grow vegetables or herbs don't forget that as well as being utilitarian container gardens can and should be attractive. Try a tomato plant with maybe a few basil plants and a couple of marigolds. Perhaps a few ears of corn with some nasturtiums spilling out of the bottom. Or mix different kinds of herbs together in the same pot. It's up to you and your imagination.

There are many good books that you can get on container gardening. The ones that I have listed here are by no means the only books on the subject. They are, however, my favorites because they have excellent plant advice or garden information. Some of the information is aimed primarily at decorative, non-edible, gardens but there is still useful information in the book. Try getting these at your local library:

Taylors Guide to Container Gardening published by Houghton Mifflin Contained Gardens by Susan Berry and Steve Bradley published by Garden Way Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew published by Rodale The City Gardeners Handbook by Linda Yang published by Random House

Have fun playing in the dirt!

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