Container gardening a must for novice greenthumbsFor a cost-effective, fun and unique way to garden, give container gardening a try. It doesn’t have to be spendy for it to be a beautiful and productive garden.
By: Sarah Chapman, Budgeteer News
Note: This article originally appeared in the summer edition of Blueprint, a special supplement to the Duluth Budgeteer News, the Cloquet Pine Journal, the Superior Telegram and the Lake County News-Chronicle.
Love fresh flowers and vegetables? Hate paying high prices at the florist or grocery store? Too lazy to visit your local farmers’ market? Don’t have the room, or don’t want to tear up your lawn to make a garden area? The solution: a container garden. A container garden is easy to set up, easy to maintain and is easy on the budget.
The containers, or pots, are probably something that you’ve had in your garage for years. But if there are none to be found, don’t fear: Empty kitty litter buckets, five-gallon pails, large flower pots or even handmade wooden boxes (redwood and cedar work best) do just as well.
Just make sure that all your containers are cleaned before use so as not to hinder your gardening results with any stray chemicals or parasites. The basic rule of thumb is to make sure the container is between 15 and 120 quarts to ensure enough room for the roots to grow and develop.
Michelle Moors, Lake Superior Garden Center employee, says “don’t be afraid to get creative.” She encourages gardeners to use fruit crates, unique containers or anything wire to plant your container garden in.
The next order of business is to make some drainage holes in the bottom of your container — lest you want your hard work to rot away in stagnant water. If you purchase pots from the store, there should already be holes drilled. But if you’re using a homemade setup, you will need to create the holes; this can be done using a large drill bit or, my favorite, a screwdriver and a hammer.
Four to five holes half an inch across should suffice, then line the bottom of the container with newspaper to prevent any soil from getting washed out. Another drainage tip to keep in mind: If available, place containers on bricks or anything that will allow the containers to drain the water properly.
Next, let’s talk soil. Moors recommends buying a soil-less potting mix from your local garden center for a couple of reasons: For starters, there is usually fertilizer already added to the mix, which will give your flowers/veggies the head start they need; secondly, it usually reduces the amount of weeds that will need to be pulled (compared to traditional in-ground gardening techniques); and, thirdly, it’s not nearly as dense as regular soil, which translates into better drainage for your precious plants.
Moors also says to pick up a good fertilizer such as Osmocote, because every time you water, some of those good nutrients will get washed away. (Follow the directions on the container as to the dosage and frequency.)
Another advantage of having a container garden is portability. Say you have flowers/vegetables that require lots of sun and others that don’t; in a traditional garden, the foliage would be subject to whatever conditions befall the location of the garden. But not with containers — they can be moved around to different areas to accommodate each plant’s individual requirements for sun or shade.
So what kinds of vegetable and flowers grow well in containers? Pretty much anything can be grown in containers, given the container is wide and deep enough to support the root system. Some vegetable examples include: pole and lima beans, radishes, onions, lettuces, beets, squash, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes.
Moors gave a tip for people planting tomatoes in containers: Place one drainage hole on the bottom and a couple holes about 3 inches up from the bottom, as tomatoes require a lot of water to produce their fruits. And having a reservoir of water on the bottom for them to pull from decreases the amount of time you will need to spend watering them.
Moors also said that the popular upside-down planters work great for tomatoes, cucumbers and squashes — but she advises to make sure that the whole hanging container is filled to the top with potting mix so that there is enough medium for the roots to develop properly. Another interesting way to grow vegetables, specifically potatoes, is in specially designed bags for growing them. Potato bags should be available at any gardening store.
“You’ll deal with less pests and weeds in a container,” Moors added.
Flowers and plants are also a great medium when creating a container garden. Besides the portability, buying a $6 plant and then accenting it with a less-expensive four-pack of flowers is a great way to keep costs down while creating some visual outdoor art. Most flowers will do well in a container garden, such as: geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, periwinkle, petunias, pansies, snapdragons and zinnias.
Moors also said “don’t be afraid to use shrubs and evergreens” as well in containers. Since they are year-round vegetation, the possibilities are endless as to where you can place them and what you can do with them. She also recommends reusing some of the potting mix the next year by just removing the top half of the old mix and replacing it with new — thus saving a few more dollars, as a good potting mix can be expensive.
So, for a cost-effective, fun and unique way to garden, give container gardening a try. It doesn’t have to be spendy for it to be a beautiful and productive garden.
For more information and supplies, check out Lake Superior Garden Center at 5137 Jean Duluth Road in Duluth or 2724 N. 21st St. in Superior, or check out its website at www.lakesuperiorgardencenter.com.
Superior freelance writer Sarah Chapman last covered skydiving in the Budgeteer. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.