When you think of container gardening, you probably think of flowers. Surprise! You can also grow herbs, vegetables, shrubs, and even trees in containers!
Basics of Container Gardening
Find out the needs of your plant and make sure to give it what it needs.
- Choose a location that has the right amount of sun for that specific plant.
- Select a container with drainage holes.
- Make sure your container provides enough space for the plants’ roots. Some plants, such as parsley and leaf lettuce, can be planted in shallow bowls just six inches deep. At the other end of the spectrum, small trees need a 15-gallon container, which is about 16 inches wide and 16 inches deep.
- Water as often as needed. Smaller containers will need to be watered more often than larger containers.
- If you get cold winters, the roots of perennials, trees, and shrubs in containers could freeze and be damaged. You may need to move these containers to a sheltered spot during the coldest season.
- Use a light soil mix in your containers.
Soil for Container Gardening
Garden soil alone is not suitable for container gardening. Containers must have drainage holes. However, container gardening is still vulnerable to insufficient air, nutrients, and water. Excess water tends to collect at the bottom of the containers. The water deprives the roots of air. Larger pores in the growing medium help drainage. Adding amendments to the soil makes larger pores.
Potting soils usually contain perlite, vermiculite, sand, and/or calcined clay (kitty litter). These amendments create pores to regulate drainage and airflow.
Your container gardening medium also needs organic materials. Organic materials help the medium retain moisture. They provide valuable nutrients to feed the plants. Compost is an excellent organic material. You can make your own compost using kitchen and gardening scraps. Place scraps in a large bin with air holes, and give them time to break down.
Composting worms speed up the process of making compost. If you decide to use composting worms, the resulting compost will actually be worm castings (vermicompost, or worm poop). Worm castings are a concentrated type of compost that include soil-friendly microorganisms. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm has special tray-based composting bins and composting worms to get you started.
Look around for a container gardening soil recipe. The ingredients are usually added in a specific ratio. You might need peat moss, finished compost, worm castings, garden soil, perlite, soybean meal, dolomitic limestone, or other ingredients.
Plant the herbs that you like to cook with most often. For convenience, place a shallow pot of herbs near your kitchen door or plant herbs in a window box right outside your kitchen window.
Some herbs, such as sage, may be able to withstand winter weather and come back the next year. Other herbs, such as basil, like warmer temperatures–they will not survive a hard frost. You may be able to nurture those tender herbs through the winter by bringing them to a sunny location inside.
A problem that many gardeners have when trying to grow vegetables is finding a spot that provides enough sun. Most vegetables need full sun. If you have a large tree shades your whole yard, no problem. Plant your vegetables in pots and set them wherever you have a sunny spot–even on your driveway!
Shrubs and Trees
Whether you are looking for something decorative or want delicious fruit, look for smaller varieties of trees and shrubs that you can grow in containers.
One example is columnar apple trees, which are compact, upright trees. Depending on the variety, the branches may spread only two feet–yet they yield full-size fruit.
The blueberry “Top Hat” grows only two feet tall. In the spring, it produces beautiful white blossoms; in fall, the foliage turns a pretty glowing orange. The fruit is ideal for baking.
Experiment a little and see what you can grow in containers!