Container Gardening Ideas For The Novice
Container gardening ideas for the beginner: how to choose suitable containers, and plants. When and how to water. How to use container gardens for privacy.
When you decide that you would like some plants in containers, whether they are flowers for color, vegetables to supplement your larder, or greenery for accent, you have several thousand choices. Let's break your choices down into manageable chunks.
First you will need to select a suitable container. The choices are limited only by your imagination. Decide upon your theme, rustic, formal, casual, etc. Then look at the available containers, an old bucket, a classic urn, and a flowerpot all can be converted to growing containers. Don't limit your imagination. I have seen some very attractive containers that most people would not consider suitable, such as a child's wagon, an old toilet tank and an old horse trough. If you can add drainage holes, potting soil and plants you have a container for gardening. I wonder if my old CPU case would work?
Your containers will need drainage holes of some type. You can poke holes with a nail, or drill; you should make your holes about one to two inches apart on the bottom of your planter. If the bottom is not level, such as bowl or ball shaped, make sure one hole is at the lowest level. Place one to two inches of gravel, or if weight will be a concern, packing peanuts (not the cornstarch based ones), on the bottom. If you are concerned about the dirt washing out of your holes you can fill the holes with part of a plastic scrubber. You can also place part of a broken clay pot over the holes to keep the dirt and gravel from being washed out.
Now you have chosen your containers and prepared them for planting you will have to decide what types of plants you want. This will depend upon your theme and what you hope to gain from the garden. You will also have to take into consideration your climate, the location of the container, the available space, and the container itself. Corn can be grown in containers, but would look out of place in a Grecian urn, but would look nice in a long planter at ground level. Visualize the plant in various stages of growth and then match it with the container. Don't forget you can grow several different types of plants in one container, so you need to look at the total picture. If you are going to grow several plants in one container, take into consideration the amount of water each needs. Cacti and bulbs may look nice together, but the water requirements for each are so different that you would end up killing one or the other.
The soil that you use will depend upon the location, the type of plant, and the container again. If you are going to place your containers on a balcony, you will want to use a lightweight potting soil for most plants, if on the other hand, you are growing them in a ground level patio you won't have to worry about the weight. Wet soil is heavy, so also think about how often you might need to move your container. You might consider getting casters or a rolling plant stand if you will need to move the plant frequently. A hanging basket again would need lighter soil with a high percentage of vermiculite, or something similar. You can get potting soils at most hardware stores, and of course your local gardening center.
Some plants need more light than others do. Tomatoes, for instance, do much better with a southern exposure than with a northern exposure. Do remember that although they may do better in certain areas, that does not prevent you from planting where you want to or need to. I have a 5-year-old tomato plant that moves from an outside southern exposure in the summer to an indoor, eastern exposure during the winter. I do so enjoy fresh tomatoes from my tomato plant in January. The only time you have to be careful is if your choice of plants prefers shade. Look at the plants that are available and make your choices. Annuals will last one year, perennials will last as long as they are cared for, so decide if you want to change the plants yearly, or just plant once and then leave them.
Watering is more important in a container garden since they dry out faster than in the ground. They should be watered daily, and during the hottest months water twice and sometimes three times a day. Does this mean you can't go on vacation? No it doesn't, I save my bleach bottles cut the bottom off, rinse well, poke a half dozen holes in the neck and cap, push it into the container near the center. Just before I leave I fill with water. This will usually hold my plants for three to four days, and if I will be gone longer, I have a neighbor refill them. Fertilizing should be done a little more often than in an inground garden. Once a month with a diluted fertilizer should be enough unless you are growing vegetables, in which case once a week will work well.
Pick your containers, plan your plants, and have fun. Let your imagination soar. You can use a climbing rose in an urn to screen a porch from the neighbors and provide you with privacy; you can add some color to an otherwise drab window with flowers in a window box. Screen an unsightly view with a vine in a hanging pot. Let your imagination soar.