Growing in Containers
It’s utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You’ve got to love your garden whether you like it or not. – Sellar & Yeatman, 1936
If you don’t have the space for a vegetable garden, or you miss the taste of fresh greens in the middle of winter, growing in containers is a great solution. Using pots and planters allows you to have a portable garden that can bloom and fruit all year (see How to Grow Vegetables in Pots). Keep plants outside during the warm summer months, and once it turns cool, simply bring them indoors! By protecting plants from the cold, you’ll always have a fresh supply of peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and other tasty garden goods. Container gardens can also work as ornate centerpieces for your table.
What type of container should you plant in? A general rule of thumb is, the bigger the plant — the bigger the pot or planter. However, the type of container is pretty much up to you as long as it drains well and won’t get too hot sitting in the sun all day. There are plenty of good choices, but consider the downfalls and plan accordingly. For example, ceramic looks great and drains well but tends to dry out quickly and requires frequent watering. Old wooden barrels retain water much better and don’t heat up as much but are often heavy and subject to rotting. Be creative. Try anything from discarded boots and teapots to old plumbing fixtures. Good container plants include garlic, leeks and shallots, which don’t have deep roots and require very little room to grow. Herbs are another great idea, as is ivy.
Regardless of whether your indoor/outdoor plants are flowers, herbs, or vegetables, the soil that you use is very important. If the soil is bad then your plants will be too. I know, I know, you have piles of dirt outside, but spend a little money on the “good stuff” from a local nursery or gardening store. The problem with regular old garden soil is that it’s often too heavy and compacts easily. It may also contain diseases, weed seeds and insect pests. Play it safe and buy quality potting soil.
Tip: FoxFarm Happy Frog Potting Soil is alive with beneficial microbes and fungi that help break down organic matter and feed the plant roots. Chock-full of earthworm castings, bat guano and composted forest humus… your potted plants are gonna’ feel great. And don’t worry — Fox Farm uses only the highest quality, premium ingredients — NO cheap fillers, NO topsoil, NO sludge. Never. We promise!
Because potting soil is lighter and less compact than regular garden soil, you will need to water more often when growing in pots. To test soil moisture, let your fingers do the walking! Press a finger into the potting mix to a depth of at least two inches. If it’s dry, then it’s time to water. If your containers are outside make sure to check moisture levels often, they tend to dry out quickly in all that sun and wind.
Note: Over the past several years, many products have become available that can make watering container plantings less of a chore.
Tip: Water tends to wash nutrients out of potting mixes, which means you will have to fertilize on a regular basis. To help with this, you can “top dress” container plants with a good slow-release organic fertilizer.
You can design a container garden just like you would a backyard garden, except it’s much easier because you can move it around. Try grouping different sizes and heights together for a design that is pleasing to the eye. Also, if you have the right plants, like herbs, you can plant several of them together in the same container, just make sure you allow enough room for them to grow.
For those of us with short growing seasons and long winters, bringing plants inside in the fall can be a great way to continue to enjoy them and lengthen their lives. Take the time to inspect all plants before bringing them inside — you don’t want any uninvited insect “guests.” Read more tips for bringing outdoor plants indoors here.