Containers Can Be a Convenience

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
April 24, 2001

Gardening in containers is growing in popularity because it is fun, convenient, and productive. If you have the desire to grow flowers, vegetables, herbs, shrubs and dwarf trees, but do not have suitable yard space, then plant in containers. They may be placed upon other structures, so they are convenient for gardeners.

Containers may be purchased or built for special needs. Garden supply centers have some units with a self-watering system, fertilizer reservoir and aeration screen, as well as many other types. Other suitable types with draining holes are barrels, baskets, boxes, buckets, cans, drums, sacks, and tubs.

Plants require light, nutrients, moisture, and space. If you have a space with four to eight hours of sunlight, that would be sufficient for a vegetable container mini-garden. Some ornamental plants will grow with less sunlight. Gardening in containers allows almost complete control of the four factors listed above, and probably no weeds.

The size of the container may vary from one gallon to much larger, according to the size of the plants selected (small plants to dwarf trees) and the space available. If the containers are movable or in a cart, they may be relocated for protection from the cold, heat, and strong wind. Others may be moved out into more sunlight and some wind.

Problems with the soil can be prevented by switching to container gardening. Soils for containers plants must have different properties than those in the garden. The soil mix used for container gardening has a much greater effect on plant growth than the container does. Synthetic soils are best for container gardening and may be obtained from local garden centers. The soil should drain well, hold moisture and nutrients, be weed and disease free, be lightweight, and contain no garden dirt. It should be soaked completely before sowing seeds or setting plants.

It is best to start with healthy transplants rather than sowing seeds. Most flowers and vegetables should be transplanted after they develop their first two or three pairs of true leaves. They should be handled by their root balls or leaves and not the stems.

Fertilizers should be water-soluble to avoid excessive salt accumulation in the container. If regular balanced fertilizers are used and the containers have drain holes, leach out unused fertilizer about once a week by applying sufficient water only to cause drainage.

The most common problem is over watering, and it is indicated by the tip of the leaves turning brown. If the containers are too large, it is easy to over water the plants. Rainwater is the best source of moisture. When leaves turn yellow and fall off, it is because the plant needed more water several days before that occurred. Insects and diseases may also cause damage.

Plants that grow in a typical garden and some unusual plants will be suitable in containers. Vegetables that are commonly grown in containers include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes, parsley beets, carrots, cabbage, Swiss chard, cucumbers, kale, melons, mustard greens, and turnips.

Container gardening is a wise choice for apartment dwellers in a highly mobile society and adds versatility to large gardens.

More on Container Gardening

Information about container gardening is also available from:

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.