Master Gardener: No garden space, consider container gardening

·4 min read
Sue La Fountaine
Sue La Fountaine

Container gardens allow you to grow plants when space is limited, or your soil is unsuitable for gardening.  This could be a hanging basket, window boxes, buckets or pots on your patio, walkways, or alongside your foundation.

First you need to choose the type of plants for your container. Judge the size of the plant to determine the type of container fits best.  Your plants may determine the location of your container garden. Different plants have specific light requirements.

SIZE: Your container needs to be large enough to give your plant’s roots growing room. Many flowers can be grown in a 10- to 12-inch pot, while larger vegetables like tomatoes need a much larger pot such as a 5-gallon container. The height of the pot should be approximately half the height of the plant for the most attractive display of ornamental plants.

SHAPE: Planters come in various shapes, but there are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing containers for your container garden. Tall pots that are smaller at the base and flute out at the top may be attractive, but they tend to topple over and tip easily during a windstorm or an accidental bump. This is very true of the larger plants. You should look for containers with straight sides that do not slope downward if you are planting large flowers or vegetables. The shape also affects how well it retains water and how quickly the soil will dry out in the summer sun. The square or rectangular containers with wide bottoms help retain moisture and do not require to be watered as often as many of the ornamental pots.

MATERIAL: Recycled baskets, trays, and bins to hold your precious plants are excellent containers.

• Containers such as nonporous like plastic pots and window boxes are often inexpensive options for container gardens, but they tend to hold in moisture and do not dry out as quickly as porous containers. This can be an advantage during the hot weather or with the plants that like moist soil. It can lead to over watering and soggy soil that may even lead to root rot.

• Porous containers like terracotta and unglazed ceramic are attractive, but they can whisk the moisture away from the soil and dry out quickly, leaving your plants starved for water. They require more frequent watering.

• The color of your container could also affect how quickly the soil dries and how much the soil heats up. The light-colored containers will reflect the sun’s rays and keep the soil cooler, while darker containers will absorb the light and heat from the sun and dry out quickly, overheating, and drying roots.

GOOD DRAINAGE:  To keep your plant healthy good drainage is vital.  Make sure containers have adequate drainage holes in the bottom of the pot to allow excess water to drain away from the roots. If the drainage is not good the soil at the bottom will remain soggy even if the topsoil becomes dry. It will choke out oxygen to the roots of your plant.

WELL DRAINED SOIL:  Ordinary soil or an all-purpose potting soil is too dense for container gardens.  Use a good potting mix (or make your own by combining equal parts of peat moss, all-purpose potting soil or garden loam and perlite — you can substitute the inside of a clean baby diaper.) This will create a lightweight soil that will drain well, help to retain moisture, and provide plenty of aeration to the roots.

PROPER LIGHTING:  Finding a location with the proper lighting may be difficult, however, it is essential for your plant’s growth. While each plant has its own lighting preferences, most plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Lighting requirements are on the plant’s information tag.  Full sun refers to areas that receive more than six hours per day. Partial sun means the plant will need between four and six hours of direct sunlight each day. Shade means the plant does best with less than four hours of direct sunlight per day.

WATERING: Container gardens need more watering than plants in the ground because the soil dries out quicker. Check the soil frequently. If it feels dry 3 to 4 inches below the surface, water your container garden.

FERTILIZER: With frequent watering fertilizer can leach out and it will need to be replaced. Use water-soluble fertilizer or foliar feeder. It is an excellent way to replace nutrients and keep your plants healthy.  Fertilizer can be applied every 10-14 days through the summer to keep your plants well fed.

So, start your Saturday mornings by scouring the thrift stores or garage and rummage sales for those darling containers for your container gardens. You will love it.

Susan La Fountaine is a Master Gardener with the Sandusky and Ottawa Counties Extension Offices.

This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Master Gardener: No garden space, consider container gardening