If you’re growing at home you are most likely growing at least some of your plants in containers. For those with limited space container gardening is a huge win. Containers can be moved around fairly easily, can save a lot of space and if you are renting you can carry your garden with you when you move.
Why Container Gardening
Some of the best reasons to love container gardening are:
- Containers can provide ideal growing conditions
- Easier to control plant growth
- Easier to give some plants special attention
- Easy plant maintenance
Ideal growing conditions
Different plants require different amounts of care. If you are growing in containers plants can easily be moved indoors or to a shady area if the weather changes. The soil used for growing can be mixed specifically for the plant in that pot. Watering also becomes easier if you have several plants with different watering requirements.
Easier to control plant growth
There are just some plants that, if left unchecked will take over the entire garden. This has happened to me with lemongrass, mint and sweet potatoes. We now either grow these things in containers or limit the area they can grow in by placing a barrier of some kind. We use a special grow bag for our sweet potatoes. I love the window on the bags because it allows me to see what’s going on below the surface without disturbing the plant too much (if you are a new eager gardener and you love to poke around your plants you will love this feature also). They last about 2 years in full sun before they need to be replaced.
Easier to give some plants special attention
While we may love all our plants the same, much like children, some just require a little more attention than others. Having plants that require a bit more care in a movable container can really be a matter of plant life or death.
Easy plant maintenance
The things that are easy to do are the things that get done. As long as water is easily accessible you will be more likely to water your plants regularly. If your plants are outside it’s relatively easy to get them covered with shade cloth or under a mini greenhouse depending on your climate. The things that are easy to do will always be the things that get done first.
Choosing a Container
When choosing a container there are a few factors you should consider:
When choosing a container bigger is almost always better. Larger containers hold more soil. Because they hold more soil they tend not to dry out as quickly. There is also lower soil temperature fluctuations in a larger container than there is in a smaller one.
Most vegetables that grow from fruit to flower need at least 12 inches of soil (e.g. tomatoes). Tubers such as potatoes may need about 30 inches. Smaller crops such as radishes and beets need about 4 to 6 inches of soil. When choosing a container the depth of the root system should guide you on how deep the container needs to be. If your plants aren’t given enough space for the roots to spread they will become root-bound, and begin growing in circles filling up the pot. Rootbound plants dry out quickly (because there is less soil to hold moisture) and don’t grow well.
Roots need air. Some need more than others, but all roots need air. Regardless of the container you choose to plant in, drain holes are extremely important, especially if your plants are outside and exposed to the elements.
Adding drain holes ensures the plants don’t get waterlogged. Your container should let excess water out of the bottom, so your plants won’t sit in overly soggy soil and succumb to root rot. There should be one large hole or several smaller holes located at the base of your container. Starting with a good soil mix so that the soil is holding the right amount of water also helps ensure you don’t overwater your plants.
There are several materials to consider when deciding what you would like to grow in. Wooden containers are great because they are light, readily available and can be customized relatively easily. Be mindful though, how long the container will last really depends on the type of wood that is utilized. Personally, we love upcycling pallets. They are usually free and readily available. If you would like to see a video on how to upcycle pallets to make a window box, check out our video below.
Ceramic and clay pots keep the soil cooler than most other materials but plants in clay pots lose moisture faster so these plants may need to be watered more regularly than others. If you are in a temperate climate be mindful these containers break easily with temperature fluctuations.
Concrete pots give gardens a modern look. However, they are heavy. An alternative is to use a concrete container that is mixed with perlite or other materials that makes the vessel lighter, and easier to move around.
Plastic containers are the go-to for most container gardeners. Love it or hate it, plastic is basically everywhere. If you’re creative you can come up with some interesting ways to upcycle containers as we did in the picture below
The goal is to keep the soil evenly moist but not soaking wet. If you are like me and don’t always water your plants every day consider spending the extra to get a self-watering pot/container to a simple watering spike will save a lot of time. These can be very useful if you are growing something that needs consistent moisture and you live a busy lifestyle.
A quick and easy way to see if your plant needs water is to do a finger test. Stick your finger down about an inch into the soil. If the soil feels dry, add water.
Before planting moisten the soil by flooding the container completely. This will ensure the soil is draining appropriately and the soil is uniformly moist before planting.
Your soil should be well-drained but be able to hold moisture. While you may be tempted to use soil from the garden soil, most garden soils will be too dense for growing in containers and are likely to compress, restricting airflow, and won’t drain properly. Using high-quality potting soil is important for vegetables if avoiding issues such as soil-borne diseases and excessive weeds.
When planting in containers Container gardening plants need regular feeding. Some good fertilizer options to consider for your plants include diluted fish emulsion, seaweed extract, or compost tea. These can be used as either a foliar spray (if the plant uptakes nutrients through the leaves or added directly to the soil.
Of course, adding good quality compost to your soil will add nutrients to the soil. You can either make it yourself or purchase it from a reputable source.
Outside of large trees, you can grow almost anything in a container. Just make sure it is the right size (when in doubt bigger is better), has good drainage and adequate and appropriate soil (or growing medium) for the plant you intend to grow. Dwarf plants are smaller plant varieties may be particularly interesting when space is minimal.
If you are busy investing in a self-watering container is a great option. If you can’t afford to buy one, you can build one using a few power tools and some readily available materials. The most important thing is to start growing, whatever you can, in whatever space you have available.
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