| B. Rosie Lerner
Container Gardening Expands Possibilities
Many would-be gardeners would love to grow their own vegetables and flowers,
but they are not able to due to health reasons. Gardening in the traditional
sense requires a strong back and arms to work the soil, plant the crops
and harvest the rewards. Weeding, watering and general garden care also
may take quite a bit of bending and elbow grease.
If your mind says "yes" but your body says "no,"
don't despair. Container gardening can be the answer to your green thumb's
prayers! Although gardening in containers is by no means trouble or work
free, it can bring your garden to a more manageable height and size.
No heavy digging and little or no weeding are required. The soil-less
media are much more lightweight than garden soil, making containers easier
to handle. Container gardens can be brought within the reach of those
who are confined by a wheelchair or who have weak back. Container gardening
also enables apartment-dwellers and others who lack garden space to participate
in one of America's favorite
The possibilities are endless in finding containers for gardening. Conventional
clay or plastic pots are perhaps the most obvious choices, but many other
materials work just as well. Old whiskey barrels, tires, bushel baskets,
buckets, wash tubs, coolers, window boxes, hanging baskets and homemade
boxes are just a few suggestions.
The most important characteristics in choosing containers are size and
drainage. Containers must be large enough to support full-grown plants,
including their root systems. Most plants need a minimum of 6-8 inches
of rooting depth. Whatever the container, it must have a means for excess
water to escape (usually through holes in the bottom). If excess water
is trapped in the soil, pores that should be holding air will be filled
with water, driving out much-needed oxygen.
Many vegetable and flower plants are quite adaptable to growing in containers.
Shorter crops and flowering plants usually adapt better to the limited
soil area, but even tall tomatoes can be containerized if given enough
space. Fortunately, plant breeders have become sensitive to the needs
of container and small-plot gardeners, and they have been developing many
new cultivars of both flowers and vegetables, which are compact yet productive.
Check your garden catalogs and garden suppliers for these mini or dwarf
Container gardening does pose some special considerations beyond conventional
gardening. Keep in mind that, due to greater exposure to drying winds,
containerized soil will need watering more often than a garden bed. You
may need to water every day or even twice a day during hot, sunny weather.
The best way to tell if it's time to water is by feeling the soil with
your fingers. Soil-less media also become very lightweight as they dry,
so simply lifting the pot can help determine if water is needed. Water
when the top inch or so of soil begins to dry. Use enough water so that
some excess runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom. This will help
ensure that the entire root area is moistened. Peat moss is very difficult
to wet once it becomes dry, so be sure to check the watering needs of
soil-less media frequently.
You'll have to pay greater attention to fertilizing as well. Soil-less
media carry little or no nutrients of their own. Even garden soil will
lose nutrients due to leaching (from watering) faster when confined to
a container. Lightweight media, such as the soil-less types or a combination
of soil and soil conditioners such as peat moss, vermiculite, perlite,
etc., are recommended to avoid soil compaction, but be sure to add a balanced
commercial fertilizer to the media mix to establish the nutrient pool.
Additional fertilizer will be necessary after about 10 weeks or so. Water-soluble
or timed-release fertilizers are convenient for mid-season fertilizing.
Follow label directions for application rates.