By Nancy Bennet
Gardening is good for the soil and the soul, but you don’t have to have a big plot of land or a massive bed to make gardening part of your life. Pretty much any plant you can grow in the ground, you can also grow in a pot. I have had great successes with beans, peas, carrots and even corn. Squash which likes to spread, and cucumbers which like to climb, can also be raised with a little ingenuity.
The lovely advantage to containers is their portability. If you don’t get full sun in your yard or on your deck, you can always have your tomatoes in pots on a wagon, and pull them around to where the sun is! As well as being able to grow your own food in a limited space, they also have the advantage of controlling disease or pests. If a plant gets sick, you can simply move it away from the others, where if it was in a bed you would run the risk of losing your entire crop.
You can also place companion plants in pots nearby, such as calendula, which are great deterrents to deer and insects, and chives which have a turnoff to aphids. You can match slow growing crops with fast growing ones in one container, such as a broccoli plant surrounded with lettuce.
You can harvest and reuse the space, making sure to boost the soil first with compost, or other plant food.
The first thing to think of is what you will plant in your container garden. This should be based on what you like to eat. No use raising several pots of peppers if you can’t stand the taste of them! Once you have decided what you want you want to plant, you now need to get the right sized pot for the plant.
A tomato plant can be grown successfully in a five gallon pot, for large beefsteak varieties, or if you like cherry or tumbler tomatoes, you can use a smaller pot or even a hanging basket. For peppers, you can go a bit smaller then five gallons, just make sure that it is at least 8 inches deep and 12 inches in circumference. Salad greens can be grown in a window or flower box, and hanging baskets make great homes for strawberries or spreading herbs, such as thyme and mint.
If you garden on a budget as I do, you don’t want to spend a fortune on your pots. Instead, scour your yard, and your neighbor’s yard. Make a point of dropping by construction sites when they are at the landscaping stage. The pots used for the plants often end up in landfill, so why not snag some freebies? Recycling yards also have pots that people have dropped off. At some depots the black plastic pots are unrecyclable and are simply taking up space and they are glad to part with them.
Thrift stores, plant nurseries at end of season, and yard sales are all good places to snag some containers at little or no cost. Clean them well before planting, to keep the possibility of diseases being spread from the pot to the new plants. Though I’ve never had a problem with using “used” pots, I always give them a good wash with a non toxic soap and warm water, before planting, just to make sure.
Aside from lettuce, carrots, and other root vegetables that don’t do well with transplanting, most plants do best started in small containers and moved up to larger ones later. One of the best investments I made early on was a movable greenhouse on wheels. These come in assorted sizes, with 3 or 4 shelves and a plastic cover. It fits well in a sunny corner of your patio and can be used to store plant pots and trays during the off season. Transplants can also be bought from nursery or plant sales in the spring, if you don’t want the fuss of starting from scratch. I myself love to start from the beginning, and its fun to involve younger family members in the growing experience with a pot or two of their own.
Once your plant has grown, you need to prepare its final pot with lots of good composted soil. Timing is everything when transplanting to the final pot. Too early and your plant will dilly dally and grow slow. Too late, and it will have become root bound and not take the stress of transplanting and die. Consult a gardening book or site, or ask advice from local growers to find when the best time to pot up is.
Great combinations can be made to add color to your garden as well. If you like spring bulbs why not pot them up with some English Wallflower seeds? Plant a large edible flower pot with Nasturtiums, a dwarf sunflower such as Music Box, and Calendula. Pair a Window Box Roma Tomato with Red Rubin Basil. Put up some colors, with Pansies and Purple Sweet William. If you want a fragrant touch, why not plant some of the heirloom varieties of Sweet Peas such as Black Knight or Henry Eckford?
Finally herbs can be grown together in groups for a gourmet display that is pretty and edible too! Try flowering Garlic chives in the back, and lemon thyme in the front, or pair up tall purple Lavender with silvery Sage. Just remember when planning your containers, place the tallest plants in back, so that all the plants get their fair share of sun. If you goof up, don’t worry, you can always turn the pot!
Container gardens are a great way to keep you active and out of doors. But beware it is habit forming. Start to experiment with color, scent and new plant varieties, and soon like me you will have a deck bursting with life from your new passion. Isn’t it time you got potted up?
About the Author: Nancy V Bennett divides her time between her farm ( Three Sisters Farm) on Vancouver Island and writing articles on a wide variety of subjects. Her work has appeared in over 400 publications, including Dogs In Canada, HR Luxury Magazine and Reunions Magazine. She is an avid heirloom gardener and promoter of saving and sharing seeds, especially rare and endangered tomato and sweet pea varieties.