Most of us love fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables, and herbs; and gardening is how to get your hands on the freshest. But perhaps you’ve been hesitant to start a garden; worried that your thumb isn’t green enough, hesitant to commit to what looks like a time demanding project. The key to a manageable and enjoyable garden is to keep it small and simple. Your first decision…container or terra firma?
If you live in an apartment or condo that has a patio but no yard, container gardens are the only way to go. Containers allow you to garden just about anywhere, but to be successful there are a few guidelines that you’ll want to follow.
Containers and Soil Moisture
Use the largest containers practical for the space available. Small pots dry out quickly, are higher maintenance and are more prone to stress plants by exposing them to extreme changes in moisture level.
Plastic or glazed ceramic pots retain moisture better than more porous, terra cotta containers. It’s fine to use porous material, and several large terra cotta planters make for an attractive patio garden. Just be aware that plants in porous containers will require more watering, and regardless of the type of pot, patio gardens in general dry out more quickly than gardens planted in the ground.
Convenience of Container Gardens
Even if you do have a yard and the space for a garden plot, you may still elect to grow in containers. Your plants will be easily accessible, and although extra watering is required, containers present less of a problem with overgrowth of weeds.
For a little extra money, you can purchase self-watering pots. These special containers retain a large reservoir that provides consistent moisture over a longer period of time than conventional pots.
Container Gardens and Herbs
Growing cooking herbs is one of the very best reasons to plant in containers. Having a kitchen herb garden, convenient to your cooking area, will provide you with fresh herbs for most of the year.
Herbs in general are tough, drought resistant plants that often become more potent and fragrant when exposed to drought conditions. So containers that are prone to dry out do not present as much of a problem when used to grow herbs.
There are also pros and cons to planting a garden plot. An backyard garden is more prone to weeds. The soil must be tilled, sometimes enriched and you may have to protect your garden from critters.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Growing plants in the ground, with a thick layer of mulch, protects them from the extreme changes in moisture level that are characteristic of container gardens. A substantial layer of mulch or garden fabric will also reduce the amount of time you’ll spend weeding your garden.
Bigger is Not Necessarily Better
If you are new to gardening, be sure to start with a small garden plot and grow only a few items. You can always make the plot larger next season if you want to expand your efforts.
Choose Fewer Plant Varieties
If you grow vegetables, choose your favorites, or whatever costs the most at the market and will grow in your climate. Trying to grow a little bit of everything, presents more work and less yield.
For example, a small 6×6 garden plot is large enough for four indeterminate-growth tomato plants and a row of leaf lettuce. Just four well cared for plants are enough to keep you in fresh and canned tomatoes all year round. The row of leaf lettuce can be cut and harvested several times, providing you with an entire summer of salads.
Grow Heirloom Tomatoes for a little extra treat in your garden.
Vegetables, Herbs and Sun
Whichever garden type you choose, make sure that it is in an area that receives sun throughout most of the day. Veggies and herbs do not grow well in shady locations.
Container Gardening Tips
Container gardening allows virtually anyone to grow flower, vegetables and other plants. Whether you have a deck, a patio or just a windowsill, you can enjoy the great indoors this growing season. These container gardening tips will help ensure your success.
Don’t scrimp on soil quality.
Plants grown in containers have less access to nutrients. They can not simply extend their roots to find better soil. Instead, these plants depend on the gardener to provide a rich, healthy soil. Use a professional-grade potting soil or create your own by combining one part builder’s sand, one part perlite and two parts peat.
Keep plants grouped by similar growing conditions.
Some plants grow well in together in the same container, but be careful not to mix those with different growing condition requirements. If you put a sun-loving plant with one that requires shade, both plants will not survive the season. Don’t squish plants together in pots just to save money on containers. This will backfire, leaving you with plant in poor health and plenty of time and money down the drain.
Check plants daily for adequate moisture.
Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. In extremely hot or windy weather, daily or even more frequent watering may be necessary. If you overdo it though, plant roots become bogged down in water. This results in poor plant growth and increases the risk of disease and insect infestation. Ensure good drainage by using only containers with holes in the bottom. If you want to use a container that doesn’t have holes, drill three or four holes in the bottom before filling it with potting soil.
Add mulch to the mix.
Topdress each container with about an inch of organic mulch. This makes nutrients readily available while improving water retention and keeping soil at a cool and even temperature. Take this extra layer of mulch into account when planting to avoid overfilling the pot with soil. Leave at least 2 to 3 inches at the top of the pot. This provides room for the mulch without causing the pot to overflow during watering.
Choose the right location.
Just because you have a container garden doesn’t mean you can plant absolutely anything. If the only space you have to set out a container garden is on a small patio next to a large shade tree, your options will be limited. Look for creative ways to produce the desired conditions for your container garden. Window boxes and hanging baskets work well to get some of those plants out in the sun.