Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Are you a little short on space for a garden? Maybe the old knees are telling you that crawling around in a garden might not be a good idea. Or maybe just a few vegetables, herbs or flowers are all you need. Containers gardening can be just the answer. Growing plants in containers provides an opportunity to garden on patios, porches, balconies, and even windowsills. And container gardening can be very productive! There are plenty of things around the house that can be modified for use as containers for gardening. Examples are pots, tubs, crates, buckets, bushel baskets, whiskey barrels, tires, wheel barrows, and hanging baskets. It is best to avoid containers made from treated lumber as it can be toxic to plants and people. Mr. Potato Head is planning a big container garden so he got a bunch of 55-gallon plastic barrels and cut them in half. What ever you use there is one very important thing to remember: drainage. A container must provide drainage of excess water and sufficient space for roots to grow. Plants need soil nutrients, water and air to grow. Too much water equals not enough air; the plants will die from lack of oxygen. Your friends and neighbors may start calling you the plant murderer, not good. To provide drainage, three or four small (1/4 inch) holes can be drilled in the bottom of the container. Holes larger than 1/4 inch in diameter will allow too much soil to escape. A layer of gravel or pieces of broken pottery can help stop the flow of soil through larger holes. Planting your container garden is much like planting a traditional garden bed. Seeds can be planted in rows or in clusters, depending on the size and shape of the container. By planting transplants rather than seeds, plants will have a head start on the growing season. Plants that are naturally smaller will be easy in a container garden. But even large plants such as tomatoes, melons, and squash can be productive if given a large enough container. Most plants will do well in about 6-8 inches of soil. Larger plants like tomatoes will need 12-14 inches of soil depth and a bigger pot so they don't tip over. An old five-gallon bucket would work well for a tomato. Because container gardens have greater exposure to sun, wind, and heat, they may need to be watered more frequently than a garden bed. Smaller containers may need to be watered every day. But before you go too crazy with the watering can, remember that over-watering is also a problem if soil is kept too wet too often. Feel the soil with your fingers, and then water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Be sure to use enough water so some excess runs out of the drainage holes. This will help ensure the entire root area is moistened. Not just any old dirt will do. You will need to buy or make a special soil mixture for your containers. Garden soil alone will soon become compacted in a container garden, leading to poor aeration and water drainage (and sick plants). Premixed potting soil or soil-less mixes are offered by many garden supply stores and are ideal for small containers. For larger scale container gardening, making your own soil mixture may be more economical (that is what Mr. Potato Head is doing). Here is the recipe to make 1 bushel of soil mix: 1/3 bushel garden soil 1/3 bushel organic matter (compost, peat moss, well-rotted manure) 1/3 bushel vermiculite or perlite 1/2 cup 5-10-5, 6-10-4, or similar fertilizer Finally, here is a secret which will cause your fellow gardening friends to be green with envy. The soil temperature in containers warms up much faster than garden soil, your tomatoes can be planted earlier and will grow faster in the warmer soil. You'll be eating nice red, sweet tomatoes while you friends will still be waiting. Be kind, share with them! Do you have a gardening question or suggestion for Mr. Potato Head? Contact him at
. Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis.