Container and Small-Space Gardening

Just because you have a small yard, or no yard, doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. Container and small-space gardening is one of the most popular trends among gardeners, both expert and novice. What both realize is that there’s an art as well as a science to creating a pot with perks – one that not only turns heads but remains a workhorse all year long.

But what exactly is container gardening?

Anything that can hold a good amount of soil and plants and have the ability to drain water is game for container gardening. People might do it for several reasons. One is, of course, to bring nature into a place where it normally wouldn’t be. Container and small-space gardening gives plants a chance to thrive indoors where they normally wouldn’t and can enhance a room, deck or patio. It isn’t limited to interiors either. A well-placed container can be the focal point of an outside garden. Planting in containers is also very flexible, and it’s easy to move pots around and experiment with different combinations and placements.

What type of containers should you use?

Many people use ordinary pots and containers you might find at a gardening center, in materials as varied as terra cotta, concrete, plastic, metal, wood, ceramic or wire. In fact, the easiest thing to do is to buy a container plant directly from a gardening center; the job of planting is already done for you, and all you have to do is take your plant home, find a spot and care for it.

But that’s really only the beginning. Some people get creative with their potting choices — plants will grow in anything, including watering cans, tires, buckets, boxes and even boots. The size and color of the container also matters. Bigger pots require less watering, which is good for people who aren’t at home often, and darker colors absorb heat and help plants grow in the summer.

So, since we’ve established that container and small-space gardening is simply great, here are some reasons why:

14 Benefits of Container Gardening:

  • Great for beginners and experienced gardeners
  • You can garden anytime
  • There are no space constrains. Container gardens are not restricted by availability (or non-availability) of yard space
  • Highly mobile! You can take your container garden indoor or outdoor anytime
  • Enjoy no-till gardening
  • Save on water, soil and fertilizer
  • Pest control is much easier
  • You can adjust the height of your garden. Makes it especially helpful when you have back aches or week knees.
  • Harvesting is easy and fun
  • You are free to choose the growing medium: Soil, coco peas or sphagnum moss
  • Great space savers
  • Wonderful addition to your apartment, patio or balcony

Container and small-space gardening can be practical as well as aesthetically pleasing. On top of flowers and foliage, you can also plant vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, herbs and more into containers and add a little homegrown flavor to dinner. You don’t need a large area to have a vegetable garden. You do need good soil, plenty of sunshine and a water source.

Things to consider in Small-Space and Container Gardening

Pots- When selecting a container, remember that bigger is better as far as ease of maintenance and size of harvest. Half whiskey or wine barrels or similar-sized pseudo terra-cotta containers are large enough to accommodate vegetables such as large tomatoes, eggplant, and squash, with room to spare for companion plantings of smaller choices such as carrots and lettuce. Five-gallon containers can hold dwarf tomatoes, peppers, beans, and many small leafy greens. A window box is even large enough to grow radishes and arugula.

Additionally, consider where this container is going. For example, if you are putting it on a rooftop or in a window sill, choose something light. Be aware that some containers such as terra cotta can retain heat quickly, so extra watering may be necessary.

And don’t be afraid to get creative! Containers of various shapes, colors and sizes add visual interest to a conventional backyard landscape.

Soil– All successful gardening endeavors, big or small, start with fertile soil. Vegetables need a soil rich in organic matter. Soil is important to the growth of all plants, but more so with vegetables, because even taste is affected by the quality of the soil. That’s part of why wine from the same grape variety can vary from region to region and why some areas grow hotter peppers than others.
Sun- Vegetables need a good 6 or more hours of sun each day. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed. Even if you are sun challenged, there are a few vegetables that can survive in light shade, lettuce and other greens or broccoli.
Water – Closely spaced plants packed into a small volume of soil need watering as often as once or twice a day, especially in hot, sunny, dry weather. When you water, be sure to saturate all the soil in the pot-not just around the edges. Pots that dry out too quickly may have more plants in them than the soil can support. Remove some plants, prune them back, or move the pot to a less sunny location. Containers that have self-watering features can make watering a hands-free affair.
Fertilizer– Choose a balanced fertilizer that you can add to your watering can. Frequent watering and the limited amount of soil in container gardens makes the need for fertilizer critical. Mix slow-release fertilizer pellets into the potting soil, according to package instructions. Add additional nutrients throughout the growing season by dissolving a water-soluble fertilizer in the watering can once every week or two. Use a one-half to one-quarter strength dilution or follow package instructions.
Best Plant CombinationContainers allow you to plant combinations that are both edible and attractive. For example, try creating a salad container with different colors of leaf lettuce, a bush cucumber, a dwarf patio-type tomato, and even herbs such as parsley. How about a tomato sauce barrel with a tomato plant in the center, herbs such as oregano and basil on the sides, and onions interplanted between the herbs? Or a root crop roundup container with beets, carrots, radishes, onions, and parsnips in a foot-deep container? To save space, consider growing some plants up. Choose pole beans over bush beans, and trellis them along the back of a container. This leaves space in front to plant other vegetables.

Types of vegetables to grow:

Variety selection is more crucial to small-space gardening than you may think. The amount of space that a particular crop occupies can vary greatly from one variety to another. If you’re gardening in limited space, especially containers, you should be looking for vegetable varieties listed as “compact” or, in the case of fruit trees, “dwarf.”

  • ‘Alibi’ Cucumber. You’ll need an alibi to tell your family after you’ve picked this short-vine variety clean and eaten all of the cakes yourself. Matures in 50 days.
  • ‘Bush Delicata’ Squash. If you absolutely must plant squash in your tiny space, ‘Bush Delicata’ is a good choice. This open-pollinated heirloom variety only spreads about 4 to 6 feet, and you can save its seeds for the next year.
  • ‘Compatto’ Dill. It may not grow any taller than 20 inches, but ‘Compatto’ will deliver the dill taste you need for salads and garnishes.
  • ‘Green Tiger’ Zucchini. This stout, bushy variety produces brilliant, 6- to 8-inch fruits with glossy, dark green skin and pale stripes.
  • ‘Mohawk’ Pepper. Picture 4- to 5-inch, brightly colored bell peppers spilling over your deck railing or window box, and you’re picturing ‘Mohawk.’
  • ‘Ophelia’ Eggplant. This one is perfect for the patio. The eggplants are small — a little more than 2 ounces each — and grow in clusters like tomatoes do.
  • ‘Temptation’ Strawberry. Compact, vigorous growth makes ‘Temptation’ well suited for hanging baskets, grow bags and short-season climates.
  • ‘Totem’ Tomato. Growing no taller than 2 feet high and requiring no staking, ‘Totem’ offers big tomato taste in a small package.
  • ‘Tumbling Tom’ Tomato. ‘Tumbling Tom’ is a heavy yielder of beautiful, bright red cherry tomatoes. Perfect for hanging baskets, as the tomatoes really do tumble over the edges

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