Grow A Container Garden
Creative Urban Gardening

A container garden lends itself to small spaces. Grow herbs, vegetables, or beautiful flowers on a sunny patio or for decorative accents in suburban yards.

Your garden container can literally be anything that will hold dirt and drain water. Ceramic pots, wooden crates, raised planters, even old boots can be used as containers.

Look around your home or garage sales for interesting receptacles for your flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Be creative and enjoy the process.

Container gardening can add beauty to a suburban home as well as apartment or condo living. Containers, on the surface or imbedded, can make a colorful border along a driveway, a path, or a paved walkway.

By using containers, sensitive plants can be put into a cold frame or indoors during cold weather. Protect your perennials.

Tips on container gardening:

  • Line wooden containers with plastic to prevent rot and serious discoloration of the wood.
  • Avoid material that might be toxic such as treated lumber in direct contact with the soil.
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of DIY crates and planters after lining with plastic and place broken pot sections or rocks over the holes to retain soil.
  • Remember that unglazed ceramic pots will wick moisture and have to be watered more frequently than glazed containers.
  • Be mindful of size if you are going to move the container inside for winter. An empty planter is easy. A ceramic pot filled with damp potting soil can be a challenge to move. Using a small platform on casters can be a great help for moving large containers.
  • Pests can be kept from young plants with a cylinder of wire mesh or screen.
  • While a variety of different potting soils are available, we now use a mix of compost and soil. We don’t have to use fertilizers. If you don’t have manure and soil available, don’t let that stop you. Use the potting soil and enjoy your patio garden.

Tips on Watering Containers

Because it’s rare to have just one container garden, a strategy for effective watering can save time and improve the quality of your plants, whether veggies, herbs, or flowers.

Controlled watering with a drip system offers a variety of advantages. Water waste is almost eliminated. All the water is put on the desired plants. Volume can be controlled by using emitters of different capacities. You can water a container at one gallon per hour next to a plant being watered at 2 gallons per hour without the guesswork of a hose sprinkler.

If your container garden is on the balcony of a condo above street level, your downstairs neighbors will appreciate not having to contend with excess water flooding their balconies. As Robert Frost might have said, “Good irrigation makes good neighbors.”

See our page on drip irrigation for practical and easy installation of a drip system.

Repotting Root Bound Plants

To keep your plants thriving, it is important to control their root systems. Nature intended plants to grow in the ground, which means that their root systems can spread without confinement.

We container gardeners have other ideas. We want to control the spreading of the roots of our favorite herbs and flowers. This is not a problem with annual veggies such as peppers and tomatoes that will be die and be replaced every season.

Signs of being root bound include yellowing similar to underwatering, roots sticking out of the bottom drain hole, or swollen and cracked containers. A root bound plant will eventually die. You have two alternatives to keep your plants healthy – repot in a larger container or prune the roots and repot in the same container.

For transplanting to a larger pot, Barbara advises “scuffing” the root ball with your hand to loosen the tight root ball. If the plant is severely root bound, you might want to score or even prune some of the thread roots.

For replanting in the same pot, pruning will be necessary. This is a process that will require some experience to do well on a consistent basis. A basic rule is to prune no more than 1/3 of the thread roots. Do not prune the heavier tap roots.

For more information on the care of container gardens, we recommend the Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch or contact us with questions and comments. Enjoy your garden!

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