Monday, May 16, 2011

Container Gardening, growing in pots, Gardening 101c

     It is still raining, and is supposed to continue until Friday, so it is the perfect time to get a few more posts together before the BIG planting weekend that is coming up. I will be too busy then just like everybody who gardens. I'm not sure which is worse, Christmas shopping on the 24th of December or plant shopping on the May 24th weekend.

     I've already gone over a few of the basics if you are new to gardening, here and here, taken you on a tour of my planting areas, here, so now I'll move on to container gardening.

     If you live anywhere but on a farm, you have three gardening options to test your green thumb.

     If you're like me, you can tear up your lawn and garden on your lot. I hate cutting grass so it was a no brainer.

     Many places have access to community or allotment gardens. These are great for the apartment or condo dweller. I help out when I can at the one close to me in Christie Pits. I think these are great ideas and real community builders. Unfortunately there are only so many plots, so there is always more demand than space available.

     That brings us to container gardening. This is perfect for the person who has a balcony, patio or just a good sunny window where you live. Gardening in pots has some unique challenges. Don't despair. I'll take you through my experiences and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.

     This is mainly about vegetables and herbs but can apply to flowers as well. Here are the things you need; containers, sun, water, soil  and plants.


     They come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Something to keep in mind, plants need room to grow. Buy the right size for what you are planting. Bigger is almost always better. Roots go down, mostly, so deeper is good too. Match your pots to the plants and your expectations.

     For example, probably the most popular container vegetable (fruit actually) is tomatoes. They start well then fizzle as the season progresses. Tomatoes need a lot of room, water and are nutrient pigs. My wine cask is about 22 gallons and is perfect for one mature tomato plant. Yes you can grow them in smaller ones but anything under a 5 gallon pot and you are looking at a lot more watering and feeding to keep them healthy.

     The same thing applies to herbs. Those beautiful packaged herb gardens, stuffed to overflowing look fantastic, for a couple of weeks. They are too crowded with no space for your herbs to spread. Nutrients are quickly depleted, usually they mold because not enough air flow around the plants and you are left with a not so lovely looking bunch of straggly plants.

    Another common mistake, no drainage holes in the container. Unless you are growing bull rushes or papyrus, you need drainage for your pots. Most plants don't like to sit in water, it rots the roots. If you have saucers for your pots, fill them with pea gravel or use planter "feet". It keeps the bottom of your soil from being waterlogged, a great source of all kinds of plant diseases.


     Same as for regular gardening, location , location, location. I don't know of any vegetables or herbs that thrive in shade so you need eight hours of sunlight. If you don't get that much sun, plant flowers and enjoy them. Avoid the frustration and disappointment of trying to grow things where they won't preform.

      Here is the other reason to pick your spot with care, pots can be very heavy when full of earth and plants. I know, I've moved my half wine cask planter a few more times that I care to admit chasing the sun, so plan ahead.

Soil and Water

     Because of the small relative size, containers need a lot of watering. The smaller the pot the more frequent the watering, usually daily sometimes more. This washes nutrients out of the soil faster. Unless you bought earth with time release fertilizer in it, you need to feed you plants all through the growing season. There is no way around this if you want to keep your plants healthy and lush.

     To test your pots, push your finger in to the earth just past your first knuckle. If the soil is dry, water, if damp or wet, don't. It can be a bit tricky getting the hang of this. It is incredible how fast your plants can dry out over the course of a hot summer day. You want to avoid having your plants wilt down because of drying out then soaking them to revive them. It shocks the plants and is generally not great for their over all health and productivity.

     You have your pots and earth, you've checked the amount of sun you get, now it is time to plant. Keep in mind plants need space. One to grow and secondly for air circulation around the plants. It allows them to dry after watering so they don't mold. A tip for helping keep down mold in your container, water occasionally with chamomile tea. It is a natural mild anti fungal.

     For vegetables and herbs, less is more. If you stuff your containers to overflowing be prepared for more maintenance, watering and feeding, to keep everything healthy.

     Here are a few things that do really well in smaller pots, for me a smaller pot is a 12" one. You can always ask for advice on what to plant at your local nursery, most are very helpful.

    Salad greens; Swiss chard, four plants produce an amazing amount of greens, arugula and leaf lettuce. None of these seem to mind being crowded and will produce most if not all season long.

     Beans, six to eight bush bean plants put out an astonishing amount, keep them picked to ensure a continuous supply.

     Single plantings of herbs, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, chervil, parsley, chives, lemon balm, I could go on and on. Again, you can use smaller pots just more maintenance to keep them growing. Avoid things like tarragon or savoury, they grow quite large and need a lot of room. You can grow mint, I swear it will grow in the crack of a sidewalk but it won't over winter in a small pot.

     There are lots more options, these are just my favourites. Leave a comment below and let me know yours.

     My containers are mainly for annual flowers. I like the colour and smell but am unwilling to give up valuable garden space. I do single herb plantings, close to the kitchen door, but my herbs in the garden always out preform. I also plant my bulbs in pots. It is a little weird but I can always find them to bring them in for the winter.

     I have done container gardens for years. It was my only option when I moved to the city and lived in apartments. I have had good luck and bad but definitely recommend giving it a try.

     Are you a container gardener? Drop me a line or leave a comment and share your gardening wisdom. If you have a question, by all means ask. I'll help if I'm able. Get out and get growing, LOL.

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Thanks for your comment, I hope you enjoyed your time in the "Kitchen".