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Container gardening is an attractive alternative to gardening in the ground for many reasons. Some people are drawn to gardening for the very activity of pottering around among plants. Others, depending on whether they are growing edibles or ornamentals, aim for the practical outcome of their efforts or for the visual appeal flourishing plants provide. Whatever be your motivation for growing plants, container gardening takes you beyond time and space constraints and lets you enjoy the creative process all year long.
1. You can garden anytime
Seasoned outdoor gardeners often say that they get an implacable itch to get going at the start of the planting season. The time may vary depending on where you live. In temperate regions, it is usually at the approach of winter and the first stirrings of life beneath the frozen ground. But in the tropics, it is usually the beginning of the rainy season when the fresh smell of earth pervades the air following the first shower hitting the sun-baked earth. But those who love container gardening need not wait for any such external cues.
With containers, you start your garden anytime, any day – especially when you can cover the container to form a sort of mini greenhouse. There is no need to wait for super warm weather to start young plants when you can create the perfect growing conditions using a container.
2. There are no space constraints
You might think that you don’t have enough space for a veggie garden. While people living in townhouses and apartments may not have any outdoor space to call their own, that shouldn’t be a problem at all if you turn to container gardening.
Container gardens are not restricted by the availability (or non-availability) of yard space. You don’t even need a yard. It is possible to have a sizeable number of plants growing on a balcony or a window sill or in a bright spot near a window. Keep in mind, many different varieties of plants can be grown in the same container. Companion planting in containers is a popular idea that produces a high yield and makes gardening a possibility for most people.
3. Ideal for novice gardeners
There are some hard realities associated with outdoor, in-the-ground gardening. One has to do with weeds. Their seeds are everywhere, and they sprout faster and grow more vigorously than the seeds we plant. That is why experienced gardeners give much importance, time, and energy to preparing the veggie bed. When people take it easy and plant their garden with minimal preparation, they may end up with beds overrun with weeds in no time. This is hugely discouraging, especially for newbie gardeners.
Pests, diseases, and vagaries of nature are a few other factors that can adversely affect outdoor gardens. Many novice gardeners are put off by their failure and never attempt gardening again. Although container gardening is not without its risks, they are few in comparison. The weed problem is minimal and diseases and pests are quickly noticed and easily remedied. Being portable, containers can be moved to protected spots when there is a danger of prolonged foul weather.
4. You can bring the garden indoors
There are hundreds of houseplants that will happily thrive indoors near a sunny window. You can even grow fruits and vegetables if you have the right conditions. If your windows don’t have the right kind of exposure to let in sufficient light, artificial lighting can come to your rescue. There are many different lighting options tailored to the varying needs of flowering and foliage plants. For example, cool white light in the blue spectrum produces lush leaf growth on compact plants. They are ideal for growing leafy vegetables indoors.
On the other hand, warm lights in the orange-red spectrum, promote flowering and compact leaf growth. They are good for tomatoes and capsicums. You can grow vegetables under hi-tech lighting arrangements that can be tweaked periodically to suit specific development stages. This ensures maximum yield from a given space.
Being able to bring the garden indoors is a boon for people who are mobility-challenged or allergy-prone. They can enjoy their favorite activity within the comforts of their home, and even completely do away with soil that may be harboring troublesome dust and mold.
5. Enjoy no-till gardening
Even a die-hard outdoor gardener will agree that tilling the ground is hard, back-breaking work. In addition, it has been found that tilling actually disturbs many of the natural organisms that are necessary for a healthy garden. Many people are turning to a no-till garden option for this reason.
Container gardening allows you to create a suitable growing environment, teaming with healthy components, without having to amend the soil or worry about damage from tilling.
6. Save on water
Gardening in the ground requires more water than container gardening. Even when you diligently provide water to the root zone of plants, most of it spreads to the surrounding soil. Evaporation from a larger surface area dries out the soil quickly and necessitates more frequent watering.
Plants in pots and tubs require much less water because water loss through evaporation is minimal as it only happens from the top layer of soil. The downside is that, potted plants have only limited access to water, unlike plants in the ground whose roots can grow deep into the ground and get water from lower layers of soil. So they need careful checking of soil dampness. Generally, you can place your finger into the soil – about 1/4 inch down and check the moisture level.
7. Save on fertilizers
When it comes to feeding, container-grown plants require less frequent application of fertilizers. Just as in the case of water, fertilizers applied to potted plants––whether chemical or organic last longer because they remain concentrated in the limited amount of soil within the containers. Also, potted plants need not share the fertilizers with competing weeds. For the same reasons, fertilizers should be used sparingly in pots compared to garden beds, lest high concentrations burn the roots. Be sure to choose a high-quality organic fertilizer or use your own compost. You will save on fertilizer and get more value for your money.
8. Pest control is easier
Pest infestations in garden beds often require pesticide spraying because you do not have access to individual plants. Controlling pests in container-grown plants is easier, and may not require a chemical application.
You can handpick the larger insects and use a toothbrush or cotton bud dipped in rubbing alcohol to get rid of aphids and scale insects. Moving the pots to the bathroom for an occasional shower is another excellent way to get rid of many insect pests that inhabit the tender parts of the plant. You can even take individual pots and dunk them in tepid water to drown unwanted soil organisms.
Keeping the pot in a plate filled with water can prevent ants from entering your pot and starting aphid farms on your precious plants. Diatomaceous earth around the pot would help keep away slugs and many soft-bodied pests. You buy some here.
9. You can adjust the height of your garden
If you have some physical limitations that restrict your movement, or you simply don’t want to bend to the ground, container gardening is the answer. You can have large tubs at a convenient height or arrange pots on a ledge or on a shelf for easy access. It makes chores like watering, feeding and deadheading easy on your back. You can maximize space utilization by keeping the plants at different heights.
10. Harvesting is a breeze
When you grow vegetables and fruit in containers, it makes harvesting a lot easier. Grow not only strawberries and blueberries in pots but all kinds of root tubers like carrots, radishes, potatoes and sweet potatoes. When they are ready for harvest, instead of digging them up and causing some accidental damage to the precious produce, just overturn the pots on a plastic sheet. Shake out the soil and you will have every little tuber in pristine condition.
11. You can adjust growing conditions
It is easy to provide the right environment for your container plants without undertaking large-scale soil amendments. You can provide slightly acidic medium for your rhododendrons and blueberries without disturbing the pH of the soil in other containers or garden beds.
When there are seasonal differences in light intensity, you can rearrange plants accordingly. Plants of similar watering needs can live in harmony as long as they are housed in different containers.
12. You are free to choose the growing medium
Container gardens allow you to experiment with different growing media and techniques. For example, you can completely do away with soil and grow your veggies in an inert media like expanded clay pellets intermittently bathed in nutrient solution. This hydroponic culture increases yield and prevents diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria and fungi normally occurring in garden soil. Coco peat and sphagnum moss are other alternatives. You can buy some Coco peat here.
13. You can do instant makeovers
Container gardening allows you to alter the look and theme of your garden by just changing the containers. For example, large stone containers in different architectural shapes can give a classic look and feel to the garden, while metal containers with copper patina or rust––whether real or false––can transport you to another time and age. Acrylic containers in jewel colors can make your garden a fun place, but a monochromatic scheme with the same material can spell elegance.
14. Add seasonal color to the garden and the interiors
Seasonal plants like holly, Christmas actus, and poinsettias look good only for a short period. Make the best of their brief show by displaying them in prominent positions during the season, and then moving them away to obscure spots.
15. Brighten up dark corners
Plants with golden and silver variegated leaves are great for brightening up dark and dingy corners. They cannot survive for long in such low-light conditions, but you can move them to a sunny location after a week and get other plants to occupy the dark spot. It helps to have several plants for rotation.
How To Get Started With Container Gardening:
Container gardening is easy if you just keep the basic requirements of plants in mind. All green plants need sunlight, water, air, and a growing medium; the first three for facilitating photosynthesis by which they make their food, and the medium for anchoring the plant and providing nutrients.
Different plants need different amounts of it. Those who love full sun should ideally stay outdoors throughout the day whether they are in containers or not. Many flowering plants and most veggies that produce fruits are sun lovers, and require 5-6 hours of direct sun to do their best.
Most foliage plants, both leafy vegetables and those with ornamental foliage do well in partial shade. They do well indoors if they get at least 3-4 hours of direct light. They can thrive under artificial light too.
A few plants can survive in full shade although they would appreciate bright indirect light. They make ideal indoor plants.
It is necessary for all their metabolic functions, so regular watering is a must for potted plants since their roots have no other means of getting it. That said, most plants hate waterlogging because it literally drowns their roots and cause them to rot. It can kill a potted plant in no time.
Some plants like cacti and succulents store water in their tissues, so they can go longer periods without watering. They are ideal for novice gardeners who might forget to water them regularly.
As a general rule, under watering is preferable to overwatering when it comes to container plants, but they will be the happiest if you check the soil for the level of dampness before watering.
Plants require a reasonable amount of air circulation, not only around their crown but in the root zone too. Every plant cell needs to breathe, so compacted soil and stagnation of air can suffocate them.
A growing medium can be garden soil amended with sand or perlite to allow for good drainage. Adding compost or leaf mold ensures sufficient water retention and nutrient supply. Container plants grown in soilless media need a steady nutrient supply and frequent flushing out of toxic byproducts of the fertilizers. Whether or not the growing medium contains soil, it should be porous enough to allow good drainage and air movement.
It is possible to grow some plants like philodendrons in water filled containers. Although they survive with their roots completely immersed in water, they definitely do better in a hydroponic system that allows air circulation around the roots.
You can grow plants in any container that can hold sufficient amount of growing media, but drainage holes are a prerequisite. They allow air circulation as well as drainage of excess water. Clay, plastic, metal, concrete, ceramic, and stone containers are popular choices.
The walls of clay containers are porous. While they house the root zone in cool comfort, the soil dries out faster and the plants require more frequent watering. Plastic, metal and ceramic pots do not allow evaporation through their sides, so care should be taken to ensure good drainage and careful watering.
It is best to select tough, easy care plants when you start with container gardening. If you are planning to keep them indoors, Chinese evergreen, dieffenbachias, snake plant, philodendrons, zee zee plant, dracaena, cast iron plant and pony tail palm are great choices. Among flowering plants, African violets, spathiphyllum, orchids, and anthurium do well indoors, but they may need some extra care.
For outdoor container gardening, you have endless variety to choose from. You can grow almost all kinds of vegetables and dwarf fruit trees in containers. Since the containers can be moved into grow tents or indoors during winter, you can extend the growing season.
As you become more proficient with container gardening, you can move on to plant groupings that can have great visual appeal. You can select a number of plants with similar cultural requirements to grow together in the same pot. For example, a combination of purple coleus, chartreuse sweet potato, and pink and purple petunias make a striking arrangement.
Container plants should be fertilized sparingly and only when they are in the active growth stage. A buildup of fertilizer residue can be a problem, especially when non-soil media are used because there are no soil organisms to break down the toxic byproducts. An occasional flushing of the media under running water or by immersing the pots in large containers might be necessary.
Re-potting is one extra chore involved in container gardening. It must be done once every two or three years if you are growing houseplants or perennial plants and depending on the root growth of individual plants. If water drains out all too fast, or many roots are coming out through the drainage holes, the plant may require repotting.
After watering the plant, gently ease it out of the pot by pulling and twisting at its base. Remove dead roots and as much of the soil as you can without harming the healthy roots. Repot in a container that is two sizes larger than the current one. Fix the plant securely in the medium and keep it in the shade until the plant regains vigor.
If you are growing annual veggies in containers seasonally, it may be necessary to add or replace the soil before growing again the next year. Be sure to replace the soil completely if you found any sign of disease in the plants the previous year as it can stay in the soil.
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