Want a fresh tomato? Pick one! Cut some lettuce too! Whether it’s vegetables, fruits, herbs, bright flowers or just providing houseplants some fresh summer air, container gardens outside can fulfill practical needs as well as provide an interesting aesthetic. Not restrained by traditional methods, container gardens can be tiered, stacked, hung or grouped in spaces high and low, creating endless versatile and unique possibilities to personalize your relaxation zone.
Container gardening is easy and fun, however there are some things to keep in mind to ensure success. To begin the process, consider the space you want to garden in and determined if it’s suitable. Proper sunshine and wind sheltering are primary considerations for what you’ll want to grow. Most fruits and vegetables require a bright sunny location, while houseplants will want a shadier location. Be careful when moving houseplants outside, keep them sheltered and shaded at first. Also avoid adhering to the in-house watering schedules; wind and sun may dry plants out sooner and rain may overwater. Shading can be achieved in groupings or placement on tiers. Plantings along trellises or a shrub line are also good solutions for windbreak and shade. Pruning a few lower tree limbs or reshaping overgrown shrubs can provide more light.
Know your plants, then select your containers. Buckets, window planters, old wooden boxes, clay pots, hanging baskets, grow bags and even kitchen pans all work, as long as it is the right size for what your planting. Bigger, deeper containers are better both for water retention and weighting of plants for wind protection. Clay pots and other porous materials will dry out quickly. Plastic pots retain water but are lightweight. Metal containers will heat soil and roots and will require a lining of punctured bubble wrap or Styrofoam for insulation. In any case, all containers must be washed, outfitted with drainage holes and lined, if not new.
Potted plants have limited space to grow, therefore nutrients and water holding capacity is also limited. Multi-purpose potting mixes are generally best for annual flowers, herbs and vegetables. Those that contain slow-release fertilizer are ideal and will sustain for the growing season. Unfortunately, if wind is a factor, there is little weight to these mixes. The addition of compost will help to correct this, along with pre-lining containers with rocks or broken clay pieces. Please note, proper supports may be needed when anchoring shelving or window boxes. Also, it is best to fill larger or heavier containers on site once placed in the desired location.
When it comes time to plant, you may choose from seed, bulbs or mature vegetation from a garden center. Allow the appropriate space by reading plant requirement labels and top off soil/mixture with an inch of mulch to aid in water retention and weed control. Chili peppers, green onions herbs, lettuce, pea shoots and most low, bushy annuals work in small containers. Large containers hold corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, peppers, potatoes, radishes, tomatoes and just about any fruit, herb or vegetable. Window boxes work for basil, eggplant, miniature tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, thyme and most bushy flowering annuals or herbs. Hanging baskets shine with trailing tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme and strawberries as well as many of the trailing annual flowers.
To receive the most productive harvest, water, feed and weed. Check water moisture levels almost daily at first. You want to avoid too wet or too dry extremes – keep evenly moist. Tomatoes and most other quick growers require an additional weekly feeding of liquid fertilizer. Be sure to remove dead flowers and pinch back bushy plants to encourage new base growth.
Companion planting is excellent for bug control. The best companions are basil, chives, garlic, marigolds, mints, nasturtiums and thyme. These will keep away aphids, carrot rust flies and whiteflies. Chive blossoms and nasturtium flowers also taste as good as they are beautiful. In larger containers, companion planting can be done in the same container. In restricted plantings, such as on tiered shelving, plants can be staggered in separate containers.
What do you love? Aromatic herbs, bright flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables all extend that summer warm feeling and fit in containers.