For a long time, people thought they could only have a garden if they had a large yard or lots of space to plant in the ground. Thankfully though the concept of container gardening -- which is exactly what the name states, growing garden plants in containers -- has opened up the possibility of gardening to almost everyone.
Container gardening is growing in popularity because it allows people in apartments, or those without a backyard to grow a garden. It allows people that may not be physically capable of getting down on their hands/knees to enjoy gardening. It even allows experienced gardeners to enjoy a new way of gardening as well. Following these tips can help anyone get a container garden off to a successful start!
1. Assess sunlight
Take a day and watch how much sunlight the spot gets where you'd like your containers to ultimately end up. While many people "think" they know, they may over or underestimate the amount of direct light a spot gets. Figuring out if it's a full sun location, or a partial sun or partial shade will help you determine what kind of plants you can grow.
2. Choose pots wisely
There are many options available for containers, giving you plenty of choices and creative liberty. When looking at pots keep in mind that terra cotta or clay pots will dry out more quickly, metal containers will get hot in the direct sun, and concrete or wooden containers can get extremely heavy (which can be a concern if you are gardening on a balcony). This doesn't mean you can't choose them, just that you need to be aware of these concerns and adjust for them. For more info on choose containers, check out Consumers Base.
3. Use high quality potting mix
One of the most important aspects of container gardening is using a high quality potting soil. Regular garden soil is too heavy and will become compacted in containers, making it difficult for root systems to grow. A good potting mix will be light and airy; they are typically composed of peat moss, pine back, and either perlite or vermiculite. If you're so inclined you could even make you own using the instructions posted on The Micro Gardener.
4. Think vertically
Don't forget that you can grow upwards when container gardening! Allow plants to climb up trellises, or build structures that allow you to have shelves worth of plants. Just make sure plants aren't being shaded by other plants so they receive adequate sunshine.
5. Implement companion planting
Companion planting is the concept of putting mutually beneficial plants in close proximity. The symbiotic relationship between them will help both plants grow better, and allow you to grow more in the same amount of space.
6. Grow dwarf varieties if available
To make the most of limited space, opt to grow dwarf varieties of your favored plants. They grow smaller and may have a slightly less yield but will allow you to plant more plants overall allowing you to have a larger variety if you so choose.
7. Watch soil moisture level
The soil in containers will dry out more quickly than your typical garden soil, especially if you are using terra cotta or clay pots. It's important to keep a close eye on the moisture levels and keep plants watered well so they don't experience drought/moisture stress.
8. Fertilize lightly
When plants are grown in containers, the roots have more limited access to soil nutrients then when grown in the ground. To account for this it's necessary to fertilize container plants more often, but at a reduced rate to give them the nutrients they need for optimal growth.
9. Mulch soil surface
After plants are a few inches tall, apply a layer of mulch across the soil surface of the containers, making sure to avoid touching the stems. The mulch will help to retain soil moisture and decrease weed seed germination.
10. Watch for pests
Container gardening usually has a lower incidence of pest problems compared to traditional in-ground plantings, but it's still critical to watch for pests. Catching problems early on and treating them immediately gives a better chance of eradication, and less long-term effects on your plants.
11. Remove unhealthy plant tissue
If your plants have any dead or diseased tissue on them, it's best to remove this plant material as quickly as possible. This keeps disease from spreading and helps to lessen the chance of fungus or other bacterial growth that could damage the plants.
11. Move containers if necessary
At times the spot you originally thought would be great for container gardening may not pan out how you'd hope. Perhaps it gets too much heat and sun in the hottest part of summer, or its too windy, or you just decide you don't like containers there. If that's the case move them to a better suited location -- that's one of the great advantages of container gardening is the ability to move things around and change them when needed!