If you have an empty pot and a flower or vegetable plant, consider container gardening this year. With a ten percent increase in this type of gardening expected in 2009*, you will have a head start on your neighbors who may also be coming to this type of gardening for the first time.
There’s obviously more to container gardening than that, but it is fairly simple and can provide you with a wealth of color and style in your garden, while saving you money on first rate produce, something that is becoming more attractive all the time.
Nancy Knauss, Assistant Extension Educator, Horticulture, for the Cooperative Extension of The Pennsylvania State University, presented a program on container gardening this week and I attended along with about 30 other gardeners interested in learning more about this growing trend.
Nancy presented a slide show which illustrated how varied -- and beautiful -- container gardening can be. Even if you have placed most of your plants in the ground at your home, and want to keep it that way, plunking a container filled with flowering annuals down in the middle of your beds is sure to improve the entire garden.
Container gardening is also something that is available to anyone who has even a tiny amount of land or lives in an apartment or condo with a small deck or balcony. All you need are some basics and you are ready to “garden anywhere.”
Containers filled with blooms and greenery can serve a lot of purposes including:
- Making a transition from one area of your yard or garden to another
- Framing a view you are particular fond of
- Setting off the entrance to your home
- Forming a visual screen to block out an unappealing sight
- Drawing people into your garden
- As a backdrop for a sitting area
Pots awaiting plants at The Home Depot store, Gibsonia, PA.
Nancy offered these helpful hints for container gardening:
- Make sure your containers suit the scale of the surroundings where you will place them. A large ceramic pot containing a small tree might be a bit much on your small deck. On the other hand, a tiny pot of impatiens will be dwarfed in a large entryway. Containers should make a Big Impact, Nancy says; that’s what they are there for.
- If you don’t want to go out and purchase additional pots this year, look around and see if you can’t transition something you already own into a flowering container. Nancy suggested that items such as old washing machines, bathtubs, wicker items, barrels, toys, watering cans and urns can become beautiful containers. Some gardeners just place a plant into a bag of potting soil (after putting drainage holes in the bag bottom) and let the plant grow there. (Reminder: Be sure to bring your clay pots inside in the winter or they will crack. Empty the soil out of any ceramic pots you are leaving outside.)
- Be sure to drill adequate holes in the bottom of the container and fill the entire container with soil rather than filling the bottom third or so with broken clay shards. (This is something I didn’t know. I have always put shards or gravel in the bottom of pots to help them drain. Not the best thing to do, according to Nancy.)
- Put one specimen of plant in each container rather than mixing the plants, and place several different pots together to give your garden a unified look. If you have a variety of plants in one pot, the more vigorous ones will take over the pot. Use vertical plants to add height (or add a trellis or driftwood or branches).
- Nancy uses a soil-less mix for her containers, filling one-third of the pot first with her own compost mixture. (You can also buy a compost rich mixture of soil.) Because the soil-less mix can be made of peat, bark and perlite, some manufacturers add slow-release nutrients which can last for the summer. (Keep in mind that the soil-less mix will make the pot lighter overall so you should place it where it can’t be blown over.) Fill each pot with new soil every spring.
- During the summer, “deadhead” all of your plants (remove dead blooms) and cut back plants -- or replace them -- in mid summer.
When selecting plants for your containers, here are some ideas:
- Decide whether the container will be in the shade or sun. This makes a huge difference in your plant selection.
- Choose several textures for the plants you include in containers. Mix coarse leaves and fine leaves to lend interest to your arrangements.
- Keep the forms of Line, Mass and Cascade in mind when making selections. Line (tall thin leaves) gives shape to the grouping and directs the eye. A mass of plants gives the pot definition and cascading plants spread the wealth.
- Buy mature plants, Nancy suggests, because you will want your container to make an impact from the beginning.
- Depending on the result you want, choose either contrasting colors for plants (taking into account the color of the pot, the foliage and the flowers) or harmonious arrangements of the same color,
Growing Your Own Vegetables
The main reason for the up tick in container gardening this year is that people are seeking high quality good-tasting produce and prefer to grow it at home than buy what’s available in the grocery stores.
That said, here are some tips for growing vegetables at your place:
- Use the largest container (at least 5 gallons) for planting tomatoes and vegetable plants.
- Water the vegetables EVERY day to help them thrive.
- Some vegetables like spinach and lettuce need at least six hours of sun a day, while tomatoes and peppers require eight to ten hours daily so place the pots accordingly.
- Containers are great places to grow tomatoes, squash, peppers, peas, pole beans, cantaloupe, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce and herbs.
Now, sit back and enjoy your labors.
By Teresa K. Flatley