Neighbours talking over the garden gate has long been a tradition. They share gardening tips, complain about the weather and pests yet are ever eager to discuss their gardens. That is what I had in mind when creating this blog. So stop by my garden gate to find out the latest happenings in my garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome
"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." ~ Madame Marie Curie"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Few Container Gardening Tips

Quite often urban gardeners are forced to grow in containers due to lack of ground space. The ground space may simply be non-existent as in apartment buildings or unavailable to use as in row housing, rental houses and residential areas governed by Home Owners Associations (HOA). While each container is small in comparison to a raised bed or traditional row garden it is surprising how productive a container garden can be. One benefit to gardening in containers is you can always move your plants around to take advantage of natural sunlight. You can also bring as many containers as you want in for the winter so that you can continue to enjoy fresh vegetables throughout the winter. This is known as continuous harvest gardening.

Unlike growing in traditional row or raised beds, container gardening presents a few unique problems when it comes to watering needs, soil nutrient and stability. A container can easily need to be watered three or more times a day on a very hot day to prevent it from drying out. At the same time it is important to not over water. Knowing the watering needs of each plant in your various containers is a must. Soil nutrition is limited in a container so using soil amendments is a must. Containers can easily be blown over by the wind or tipped over by a curious dog. Here are a few tips for dealing with these three container gardening problems.

Before you plant your containers consider how prone they are to tippage. To combat container stability issues:

  • Use heavier terracotta pots rather than plastic pots that may be blown over in stronger winds.
  • If using plastic pots, place a couple of inches of gravel or a couple of bricks in the bottom to prevent the pot from being blown over.
  • Anchor smaller and mid-sized containers to walls or fences by securing a bungee cord hooked onto 2 hooks in the wall or fence on each side of of the container. This will keep the container from tipping yet you can undo one side to move the plant if desired.
  • Arrange your patio and balcony plant containers so the taller ones are at the back sheltered from the wind with the smaller containers around their base where they too are sheltered.
Lack of water or over watering are the two main watering problems in container gardening. To help combat the container watering problems:
  • Use Mel Bartholomew's (square foot gardening) soil mixture of equal parts of peat moss, compost and vermiculite. This mixture is designed to hold additional moisture reducing the watering demands.
  • Use a mulch on top of the soil to slow drying.
  • Mix watering crystals into your soil mixture. These will absorbe water when you water then gradually release it as the soil dries out. These crystals are inexpensive and can help prevent your containers from drying out if you are away for the day.
  • Use a watering bulb. This is a very simple, inexpensive device that can serve not only a practical function in your container garden but also a decorative one. The one piece unit is usually made out of glass in the shape of a small balloon shaped bulb and long tube. Once the unit is filled with water it is turned so the tube is inserted well below the soil line in the container where it will continue to water the plant as the soil dries. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well.
  • Set up a self watering system that consists of a rainwater holding tank, irrigation hose and wetpots (more on this method on March 23, 2010 post).
Soil nutrients are limited in containers so you have to provide additional nutrients as the plants grow. In addition to that everytime you water your containers nutrients leach out with the drainage water. Provide soil nutrients using one or more of the following methods depending on your needs:
  • Use a good quality, organic fertilizer according to the instructions. Some recommendations are to include a slow release organic fertilizer in with your soil mix. This works well except for tender seedlings.
  • Use a fish emulsion or compost tea to add natural nutrients biweekly.
  • Use epsom salts (2 - 3 tbsp) especially for tomatoes and peppers when they are planted then add 1 tbsp per foot of plant height around the base of the plant biweekly. Mix 1/2 c of epsom salts in 1 gallon of water and use that solution to water your plants biweekly.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome


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