Container Gardening: Plants in Pots

By Donna Vincent

Con­tain­er gar­den­ing has been grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty in recent years. Con­tain­er gar­den­ing is the solu­tion for urban and sub­ur­ban dwellers with only a bal­cony or patio. It is also per­fect for gar­den­ers who have dif­fi­cul­ty with mobil­i­ty and tra­di­tion­al hands and knees” gardening.

Soil is the key. Choos­ing the cor­rect soil for your plants will help them thrive. Soil from the gar­den or bagged top­soil is much too heavy. Pot­ted plants pre­fer a light, fluffy mix that is well aer­at­ed and drains well. 

Pot­ting mix with equal parts peat moss, per­lite, and ver­mi­culite is a great way to start. Some brands even come with fer­til­iz­er mixed in, result­ing in a suc­cess­ful first grow­ing sea­son. Use new soil each sea­son to reduce prob­lems with disease.

Select a con­tain­er that has space for roots to grow and drainage holes in the bot­tom. Both are crit­i­cal as plants that are too crowd­ed will dry out faster and become root bound. Your con­tain­er should be about as large as you expect the mature plant’s foliage to spread. Many sizes, col­ors, and mate­ri­als are avail­able at stores, or you can upcy­cle unique con­tain­ers from your garage, thrift store, or flea market. 

Con­sis­tent water­ing is cru­cial. Small­er pots and those made of ter­ra cot­ta will dry out more quick­ly and need water more often. One sun­ny day with heavy wind or a week­end away with­out water­ing can kill your hang­ing bas­kets. New­ly plant­ed pots will dry out more quick­ly until the roots fill the soil area. Ear­ly morn­ing or evening when tem­per­a­tures are cool­er allow for bet­ter absorp­tion, but if your plants are wilt­ed, it’s still bet­ter to water ASAP. With con­stant water­ing, how­ev­er, comes deple­tion of the nutri­ents in the soil. Water sol­u­ble fer­til­iz­ers such as Mir­a­cle-Gro work great, although I pre­fer Espo­ma organ­ic fertilizer. 

Con­tain­ers allow access to fresh herbs and veg­eta­bles right out­side your kitchen door. Most veg­eta­bles require 6 hours of direct sun­light to thrive. Many root veg­eta­bles are suit­able for con­tain­ers: beets, car­rots, onions, radish­es, parsnips, pota­toes, and sweet pota­toes can all be grown suc­cess­ful­ly in pots. Leafy greens like let­tuce and oth­ers do very well in con­tain­ers. Use suc­ces­sive plant­i­ngs to har­vest all sum­mer long. Many leafy greens can take a few hours of shade as well. Plant cool weath­er plants like spinach, kale, and arugu­la in April and Sep­tem­ber. Toma­toes, cucum­bers, and pep­pers can also do well in large con­tain­ers. Toma­toes need at least a 5‑gallon pot to sup­port their heavy stems and fruit, although there are some small­er patio vari­eties avail­able. Pep­pers are wind pol­li­nat­ed so you will need to have sev­er­al pots close togeth­er or pol­li­nate by hand with a small paint­brush. I nor­mal­ly plant 3 – 4 pep­pers in each 14” pot in my con­tain­er veg­etable gar­den. I grow one large 16” pot of cucum­bers with 4 plants each sea­son using a toma­to cage for them to climb.

Many herbs have dif­fer­ent mois­ture needs, so grow them in sep­a­rate pots. Basil is a warm weath­er annu­al that needs lots of sun and fre­quent har­vest­ing to thrive — remem­ber to remove the flow­ers as they start to form. Rose­mary grows well in pots, and since it’s not cold hardy in NY, you can bring the pot inside in the fall. Just remem­ber that it does not like to be too wet. I grow 5 or 6 vari­eties of mint in pots around my patio, mulching them for the win­ter so they return the fol­low­ing year. 

Pots of flow­er­ing annu­als can pro­vide splash­es of col­or around your home. Give care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion to the amount of sun/​shade they will receive. Col­or har­mo­ny is impor­tant in cre­at­ing an eye appeal­ing arrange­ment. For exam­ple, pas­tel pinks can accen­tu­ate the bold fuch­sia-hot pink shades. Com­ple­men­tary col­ors plant­ed togeth­er, such as blue and orange or yel­low and pur­ple, are also a great choice. Try to stick to two or three col­ors in one pot: too many col­ors are over­whelm­ing. Larg­er con­tain­ers look good with a taller focal plant in the cen­ter sur­round­ed by col­or­ful blooms and trail­ing vari­eties around the edges.

Let this be the year you begin to grow. Don’t let the lack of space or phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions rob you of the joy of gardening.

Spring 2021

Volume 39 , Number 1

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