Space can be at a premium, especially these days when apartments and condos are so popular. A simple solution for those wanting to grow at least a few basic herbs and vegetables is to grow in containers. Maybe you don’t have the time to maintain a large vegetable garden, or you have a physical condition that prevents you bending down or using the usual gardening tools. Whatever the reason, container gardening can be a great way to produce some of your organic food needs.
While container gardening may have its limitations, there are some great benefits.
* You have the advantage of being able to bring containers indoors through the coldest part of winter.
* Your pots / containers can create a focal point on a balcony or patio area, adding interest, colour or foliage.
* Planters can be made from just about any type of container that holds soil and allows adequate drainage.
* Potting mediums are easy to work with as they are the correct pH.
* Weeds are much less likely to become a problem.
* Less likely to be attacked by snails and slugs or soil borne diseases.
* The tiniest space – even a windowsill can be used to produce some fresh herbs
You need to purchase premium potting mix for growing in containers. Don’t be tempted to use soil from the garden in your pots as it will become compact and heavy, not allowing water to drain well. A premium potting medium is a must. It is lighter and so provides excellent drainage.
You will need to provide all your plants nutrients as most potting mixes do not come with organic fertilizer. Remember that more is not better when it comes to applying fertilizer. Too much fertilizer in contact with your plant’s roots will burn them. Always follow the directions on packaged fertilizers. There are many organic fertilizers available to choose from so look for blends suited to the type of plant you are growing – leafy, flowering, vegetables, etc.
Container plants need watering more frequently than normal garden plants, and as a result the water leaches away fertilizers. So container grown plants benefit from liquid feeds on a regular basis throughout their growing season. You can purchase organic liquid fertilizers if you don’t have room to make your own. Use them for foliar feeding and drenching the soil around your plants.
Because container plants are above ground the sun and wind will dry potting soils out quicker than plants grown in the ground. During summer you will need to take care that your pots do not dry out.
Water containers when the soil dries out to a depth of 1-2cm (1/2 inch). Apply water with a soft flow to be gentle on your plants and the soil. In really hot weather I usually re-water about 30 minutes after my initial watering. This is beneficial in containers as plants cannot always take up the water quickly.
It is important to make sure that your containers have adequate drainage or your plants will suffer and ultimately die if the roots are permanently sitting in water. If your containers sit on the ground bottom holes may not drain readily. If they are on a patio or are just off the ground, there should be no problem with bottom holes. If you’re not sure, make side holes.
Pieces from an old broken clay pot or fly wire placed over the holes will keep the potting mix from packing around the holes and reducing drainage, as well as keeping it in the pot.
You can add some mulch to larger pots in summer to help prevent them from drying out. I like to use pea straw.
Choosing the right plants
When you’re growing in containers you will need to look for varieties that are the most suitable for growing in small areas. Many herbs make excellent container specimens. You could start with some of the smaller vegetables such as radishes, lettuce, onions, capsicum or chillies, eggplant, short varieties of carrots, bush beans etc. Container planting is ideal to try out some companion planting techniques. You’ll have better success if your plant combinations are happy ones! If you plant in three weekly successions you may be able to achieve continuous production of some plants.
You can also try some climbing plants providing you have some trellis or railing for support. Strawberries grow well in containers, particularly hanging baskets if they are not allowed to dry out.
Choose a position for you container plants where they get about six hour sun each day, preferably morning sun rather than afternoon sun. ou may also need to protect your plants from falling over in strong winds. If you have many pots they might provide some protection for each other. Place the tallest plants along walls or trellises.
Many conventional gardeners find themselves with more than just a few plants growing in containers. I wouldn’t think of any other way to grow mints as they are just impossible if they escape into the garden. And how many people have the space for a full grown bay tree, when they only use a few leaves each week?
Yes, they take a little extra care, but we are well rewarded with our bounties. Try growing a few pots together. They look great and they provide a suitable micro-climate for each other. Good luck with yours!