4 Pro Gardening Tips

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No room and no land are no longer excuses for not having a garden. With container gardening, a window sill is sufficient to grow salad greens and fresh herbs. A deck can turn into a veritable farm that yields tomatoes, peppers or even apples from a dwarf tree.

Container gardening isn’t new, but it’s blossomed over the past few years. The latest manifestation stresses practicality: growing edible plants as well as decorative ones.

Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti, who blogs on sustainable living and self-sufficiency at fastcheapandgood.blogspot.com, says the lastest version of container gardening is riding the wave of square-foot gardening.

Like square-foot-gardening, container gardening focuses on getting a high yield from a small space. But the square-foot gardening requires a plot. Patterson Lorenzetti says container gardening can be more practical.

“It’s small, it’s portable, it’s easy to reach the plants,” Patterson Lorenzetti says. “It literally doesn’t involve  heavy lifting.”

Roanne Robbins, author of  “Continuous Container Gardens,” agrees that accessibility makes container gardening attractive. But she also thinks it’s a way to explore new techniques.

“Container gardening lets you experiment with plants that need better soil conditions than you may be able to provide in an in-ground garden,” Robbins says. “It provides the urban gardener a medium for planting organic produce or kitchen herbs, or the suburban hobbyist a place to experiment with some interesting woodland perennials before implementing them into the larger woodier landscape.”

There’s more to successful container gardening than just piling garden soil and seeds into a pretty pot.

Although a green thumb isn’t necessary, a little savvy will go far. Follow the steps below if  you want the best harvest from your window sill or deck.

Tips on size, type, soil and water

Pick the right size container for the plant. This may sound obvious, but it’s an important step, says Neal Klabunde, a gardener and blogger in Strongsville, Ohio. 

“If you’re growing flowers, you can you can use a window box,” Klabunde says. If you’re aiming for a heavy feeder, like broccoli, you’ll need a 5-gallon bucket.

If you have a traditional garden, use containers to extend it. Klabunde says his land is fairly shady, so he turns to containers to grow tomatoes, which like lots of sun. A container full of lettuce can last through hot weather if it’s moved to the shade.

Choose the right soil

The soil should be light, so the containers won’t be heavy. And soil should have organic matter, so it holds water. Recipes for good soil mixes are easily found online, but Patterson Lorenzetti simply plants in finished compost. If the product isn’t available at a local garden center, she suggests mixing composted manure with potting soil.

Watch the water

People don’t realize container gardens need to be watered every day, says Mare-Anne Javela, editor of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide.”  That schedule may increase to three times daily, if the container is clay or sits in a sunny place. If conserving water is a concern, pick a plastic container, which doesn’t dehydrate the way clay does.

Or make a self-watering vessel. Instructions for constructing one from a plastic storage bin can be found in  “Fresh Food from Small Spaces” by R. J. Ruppenthal (Chelsea Green, 2008). But too much water can kill a plant, says Travis Willis, creator of the fabric-based Wonder Pot. 

“A plant only grows when it’s chasing the water,” Willis says. “If it’s sitting in water, it will die.”

Think combinations. If you’re going for edibles, plant a salad bar mix of tomatoes and lettuce. Don’t worry that the plants have different light requirements.

“Plant the lettuce underneath the tomato so the tomato will shade the lettuce,” Javela says.

Don’t be disheartened if plants droop, especially if you’re just starting out with containers.

“I would encourage folks to try it and to be persistent about it,” Ruppenthal says. “If you make a mistake and something dies, don’t quit. Just keep on trying. You just have to learn from your mistakes and make a study of it.”

Tags: gardening, soil, water