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Container Gardening: Maximizing Plant Growth with Environmental Control

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Gardening | 0 comments

Containers let you control a plant’s environment, that is, the “soil” (potting mix), moisture, location (relative to sunlight and wind), temperature, and weed prevention.

The art of container gardening is hundreds of years old. Farmers, horticulturalists, and enthusiasts have grown plants indoors and out in window boxes and small containers, and have used much larger containers for landscaping.

Landscape and vegetable gardening in containers is rapidly growing in popularity. Containers help gardeners with limited space provide special features or flexibility in the landscape and obtain maximum production from flower and vegetable plants. Special flowers and vegetables may be grown each spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Containers are suitable for flowers, vegetables, herbs, small to medium-sized shrubs, or dwarf trees.

The most efficient containers have a water reservoir in the bottom with an overflow hole, a cover over the potting mix, and a wick into the water. They don’t require additional water as often as others.

Tomatoes and basil growing in containers

Tomatoes and basil growing in containers.

The containers can be placed upon other structures or brackets or hung from beams for convenience and to protect the plants from animals. The soil may be considerably hotter during the summer than the air temperatures. Then the containers must be placed on plastic pipes or other material that will not transfer all that heat into the potting mix. Most plants we grow in this area are stressed when the soil becomes hot.

You can buy or build containers for special needs. Garden supply centers have traditional units, some with special features and designs. Other suitable types with drainage holes are buckets, baskets, 30-or 55-gallon drums, cans, tubs, sacks, boxes, half-barrels, etc. Another idea is to hang a bucket from a high hook or beam with a tomato plant growing from the bottom.

Plants require suitable moisture, air, nutrients, light, and temperature. Many plant species need at least eight hours of sunlight each day. Plants in containers require more water and fertilizer than in beds or plots.

The size for vegetable plants of beets, carrots, Swiss chard, lettuce, onions, and radishes should be at least a 1-gallon container; 2 gallons for beans, mustard, and turnips; 3 gallons for peppers and 5 gallons or more for all larger plants according to their expected mature root system.

You can move the containers for protection from the cold, heat, and strong wind or into more or less sunlight.

Container gardening can prevent some soil problems. Soils for container plants must have different properties than those in the yard. The potting mix used for container gardening has a much greater effect on plant growth than the container does. Potting mix is best for container gardening and may be obtained from local garden centers or mixed according to a successful formula.

The potting mix should drain well, hold moisture and nutrients, be weed and disease free, be lightweight, and contain no yard soil. It should be soaked completely before setting any plants or seeding.

Smaller mature sizes of flower, shrub, and vegetable varieties are more desirable to grow and maintain in containers.

It’s best to start with healthy transplants rather than sowing seeds. Most flowers and vegetables should be transplanted when they develop their first two or three true leaves. Don’t touch the hairs on the stem of small plants.

Fertilizers should be water-soluble to avoid the accumulation of salts in the container and should be applied each week during the peak-growing season. If you use regular balanced fertilizers and the containers have drain holes, leach out unused fertilizer about once weekly by applying sufficient water to cause drainage.

A hanging container garden

A hanging container garden.

Rainwater is the best source of moisture. When leaves turn yellow and fall off, it means that the plant needed more water several days before that occurred. If the plants are overwatered, the edges of the leaves turn brown. If the containers are too large, it’s easy to over-water the plants. Insects and diseases may be easier to control.

Beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes require full sunlight. Beets, carrots, Cole crops, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard, onions, radishes, and turnips require morning sunlight and some afternoon shade during the hot days of summer. All fall crops require full sunlight.

Container gardening is a wise choice for apartment dwellers, a highly mobile society, and for adding versatility to your gardens. However, container gardening requires better management to develop maximum production.

FAQs about Container Gardening

Q: What’s a short definition of ‘container gardening?’

A: Container gardening involves growing plants, including flowers, herbs, and vegetables, in containers instead of planting them directly in the ground. It’s a versatile and flexible form of gardening that can be adapted to various spaces and environments.

Q: What types of containers can I use for container gardening?

A: You can use a wide range of containers, including pots, planters, hanging baskets, and even upcycled items like old boots, barrels, or buckets. Ensure they’re clean and have adequate drainage to prevent waterlogging.

Q: Can all plants be grown in containers?

A: Most plants can be grown in containers, but some will do better than others. Always research the plant’s needs and consider factors like the size of the container, soil type, and water requirements.

Q: How often should I water my container plants?

A: The watering frequency depends on the type of plants, the size of the container, and the environmental conditions. Generally, container plants need more frequent watering than those in the ground since the soil in containers dries out faster.

Q: Do container plants need special soil?

A: Using a potting mix designed for container gardening is best. Unlike regular garden soil, these mixes are formulated to provide proper aeration, drainage, and nutrients to the plants, which can compact and hinder root growth in containers.

Q: How do I choose the right size container for my plants?

A: The container size should correspond to the size of the plant at maturity. Smaller plants like herbs can thrive in smaller pots, while larger vegetables and flowers may need larger pots to accommodate their root growth.

Q: Can container gardening be done indoors?

A: Absolutely! Many plants thrive indoors in containers with enough light, water, and nutrients. Herbs, succulents, and many ornamental plants are particularly well-suited to indoor container gardening.

Q: How should I fertilize my container plants?

A: Container plants typically require more frequent fertilization than those in the ground. Use a water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks, following the instructions on the label for the amount and frequency.

Q: What are the best plants for a beginner to start with?

A: Herbs like basil, mint, and parsley are excellent starting points for beginners. They’re easy to grow and perfect for container gardening. Cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and radishes are also good options for novice gardeners.

Q: How can I prevent pests in my container garden?

A: Regular monitoring and maintaining healthy plants are critical for pest prevention. Natural remedies like neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and creating barriers can also manage pest issues without resorting to harsh chemicals.

Q: Do I need to repot my plants as they grow?

A: Plants may outgrow their containers. Watch for signs like roots coming out of the drainage holes or slowed growth.

Q: Can container gardening save me money?

A: Container gardening can reduce grocery expenses when you grow your own herbs, vegetables, and fruits. It also allows for greater control over the growing environment, potentially leading to healthier, more productive plants.