With space at some homes being at a premium, or mobility issues making working in the yard a difficult task, container gardens provide a wonderful alternative. Nearly anything one can grow in a garden can be grown in a container — herbs, vegetables, some fruits, and a multitude of flowers and shrubs all can call a container home.
Dawn Hart, owner of ACE Garden Center on St. Simons Island, said there are several reasons people garden in containers.
“Many gardeners grow strictly for consumption, and are not interested in design,” she said. “For the most part, (they) grow in nursery pots, paint buckets and large tubs with drainage holes.”
Herbs, she said, can be grown in strawberry jars, and especially like terra cotta.
The choices beginners can make are vast — container gardens can be started from seeds and seed starter kits and then those plants can be transplanted into larger pots, or plants can be bought in bedding packs or in 4-inch or gallon pots.
“The Earth Box is a great inclusive planter for small-space gardening, and there are also divided potting tables and stands available on the market,” she said.
Hart encourages the use of good organic potting soil and compost, supplemented with amendments such as lime, which help prevent blossom end rot, and fertilizers, including Mycorrhizae, which helps increase plants’ uptake of nutrients and water.
“Many vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, will need staking, which can include metal cages, bamboo stakes, wooden teepees, etc.,” she said. “Consistent watering practices are encouraged, and for the most part, both herbs and vegetables do best when grown in full sun.”
Herbs, she said, should be allowed to dry completely between waterings.
Hart encourages the planting of marigolds among vegetables, which helps keep critters and mosquitoes away, adds a great pop of color. In the cooler months, she added, parsley (either Italian or curly) makes a great companion for a pot of colorful pansies.
For floral and foliage container gardens, which primarily serve a decorative purpose, there are also some basic principles, no matter what style is chosen.
“In potting up your combination, remember to situate all plants at the same depth so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface,” Hart said. “Flowers, in particular, like a peat-based potting soil, and many are available with some including fertilizers and also a moisture retentive polymer to assist in holding moisture if the gardener feel that adequate irrigation may be an issue.”
Sun exposure and positioning of the container are very important considerations, as the plant selection for each container should have the same sun needs — full sun, shade or filtered sun are the three main choices.
Hart encourages people to look at containers other than flower pots — items such as crates, wheelbarrows, baskets and non-working fountains make delightful homes for flora, as long as drainage can be created.
Watering practices are also key. Hart says the smaller the pot, the more frequently it will need to be watered. Its position in the sun also plays a role. Checking the container for drain clogs is also important.
“The best rule of ‘green’ thumb (is) to allow the container to just begin to dry out between waterings — best indicated by sticking one’s finger down into the soil, and forgetting the manicure,” she said. “Some plants, like ferns and begonias actually turn a lighter shade of green when they are in need of water and some just go into a wilt.”