Container Gardening Basics

by Verity Evans

Whether you live in a dense inner city or way up in the mountains, you can benefit from growing all sorts of plants in containers.

Container Gardening - Top Tips

Here are a few more top tips for having the most success with your container gardens:

  • Upcycle. Almost any type of container can be used to plant into. Just remember to make holes in the bottom for drainage. Ice cream tubs, fruit punnets, used containers nursery pots, old buckets.
  • Fertilize containers. Plants grown in containers will need fertilising regularly. You are in charge of the nutrients they receive. You can buy organic fertilizer, keep a tiny worm farm, or make your own. I like to make comfrey and nettle tea for Nitrogen (for green leafy growth), and banana skins for Potassium (flowering). You can find the recipes online.
  • Use vertical space. This cannot be over-emphasized! Don’t fall into the trap of only using your floor space. Many plants grow well on a trellis (think sweet potatoes) or hanging from a basket (strawberries and tomatoes come to mind). Creating any kind of archway support is not only good for roses but for edibles like cucumbers as well.
  • Pay attention to the little things. The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow, and this applies double to container gardens. Leaves looking burnt? Move the container so it gets less sun. Pale yellowing leaves? The plant probably needs fertilizer. Marked leaves? You’ll want to check for bugs.
  • Keep it tidy. Every few months, move your pots around and clean the area where they live. Sweep up any fallen leaves and grime and mop or wipe down the area with warm soapy water. This will make a huge difference in how often you have problems with molds, fungi, and insects infestations, and will help you catch any would-be marauders like slugs that might be hiding underneath.
  • Don’t let an insect infestation fester! If you get aphids, spider mites, or scale, you need to take care of it right away. Bugs can jump containers very quickly. Add a few drops of washing liquid into a  spray bottle with water and squirt the underside of the leaves (the soap breaks the surface tension of the water and the aphids drown). To help avoid infestations, be sure to prune regularly for air circulation and don’t let your plants get too thirsty nor too wet, and remember to keep the area around your containers clean and free of debris.
  • Reuse old potting soil. If one of your plants dies or you repot it in a bigger pot, don’t throw the old stuff out! In large containers you won’t want to use a whole bag of store bought/home-made compost. Fill the bottom with old compost and top with fresh. You can also use old compost to start cuttings and/or germinate seeds, as they prefer a less-fertile medium when they’re just getting started.

Have fun! Container gardening is so much fun. Just give it a go. Give the plants sunlight, water and nutrients (good soil) and you can’t go far wrong. Even if some of your plants don’t make it--don’t beat yourself up about it! Mistakes are tools for learning and you can re-use the pots and soil for a new plant.

These containers are in downtown Washington DC, and are an example of how a privately owned local business can grow food for their customers as well as create educational examples for the community, even in an intensely urban setting.

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