Many people assume they can’t garden because they live in an apartment, rent a room, or have a tiny yard. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature finds a way to put plants everywhere except Antarctica and you can, too. Container gardening is an excellent way to work around space limitations (or grumpy landlords).
To container garden successfully, there are a few things to keep in mind: container selection, soil and nutrient needs, light requirements, and plant selection. You may also need to consider hand-pollinating indoor plants.
This is where the fun really starts! Plants can be grown in practically anything that isn’t toxic. I have seen photos of toilets, trucks, and old boots being used as planting containers. You can hang a decorative net over a sunny window and plant climbing nasturtiums, peas, or beans in a nearby pot. Transform a bookcase into a vertical garden or put plants under a glass table top. You are limited only by your own imagination. All containers will need drainage holes. Also, if you will be moving plants indoors during winter, be sure they are not too heavy to lift, or use a plant stand with wheels.
WARNING: IF A CONTAINER IS GOING TO BE USED TO GROW EDIBLE PLANTS,
BE SURE IT IS SAFE FOR FOOD. MANY PLASTICS AND CERAMIC GLAZES CAN BE TOXIC.
Soil, nutrients, and water
Generally, there are two types of soil you can buy: planting soil and potting soil. You want potting soil in your containers because it is formulated to retain water and nutrients better than planting soil (which is for use in the ground). Avoid using soil that contains sedge peat - it interferes with drainage.
Over time, your container plants will use up nutrients in the soil. You can supplement with aged compost (my favorite), fertilizer, or by changing out the potting soil every few years. That last one is pretty traumatic to root systems, so I don’t recommend it, unless necessary. Also, some plants will become root bound in containers. You can either repot these plants into a larger container, or trim the roots.
Container plants need to be monitored closely for water stress. Overwatering and under-watering are the biggest sources of problems for container plants. It is important to let the soil dry out between waterings. At the same time, hanging plants and unglazed ceramic pots need to be watered more often in hot weather.
Most container plants need 6 or more hours of daylight each day. You may need to supplement with grow lights if your home, patio or balcony do not receive enough sunlight. I have heard good things about LED grow lights, but haven’t tried them yet. (If you have, please let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.)
Not all plants do well in containers. This is especially true for plants with taproots. If you are using containers to grow food, you’re in luck - most edible plants have fibrous roots that will do just fine in containers. Here are just a few delicious edibles you can grow in containers:
*A single packet of celery seeds contains up to 100 seeds. If you plant one seed a week in a window box, bucket, or a leaky hummingbird feeder, you can produce up to 200 pounds of celery over the next 2 years!
As long as you get a self-pollinating variety, you won’t need to pollinate by hand to get fruit. If hand pollination is necessary, simply use a small paintbrush and gently (with honey bee feet) touch the tip to each flower a couple of times every few days, until the flower starts to fade and fall apart. By doing this, you will take pollen grains from the anther and place them on the stigma. If you look carefully, you can actually see the pollen grains on the stigma! Sometimes, gently shaking self-fertile varieties is all you need to do to get the pollen grains where they need to go.
So, get out there and start gardening!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!