Trowel & Error

Put it in a pot

Grow a garden anywhere

By Nancy Crowe
Containers bring gardens to places they might otherwise never go. If you don’t have a place for a plot — or even if you do — you can still dress up a deck with pots of colorful blooms or grow fresh herbs and vegetables in a box on your balcony. It can also be easier on your knees if your garden is at, say, chair level instead of ground level.

When we moved into our current home, it was already April and the raised beds were not yet built, so the south-facing deck became my garden. First there were just a couple of cedar bins full of basil, mint and oregano, some of which I’d started over the winter. Then came ceramic and plastic containers of petunias, pansies, fuchsia and other flowers. I may have even put a pepper plant or two out there.

Somehow, the addition of the raised beds did nothing to halt the growing container population on and around the deck, and soon there was barely room for the grill. The cook, or rather, the cook’s designated herb snipper, also found it more convenient to have the rosemary, mint, oregano and chives right outside the door. (Besides which: Rosemary is generally well behaved, but the other three are spreaders and don’t play well with others in garden beds.)

As with any garden project, consider purpose and location. If you’re looking for containers to accent your north-facing front porch, look for shade-loving plants such as impatiens and hostas. And think big; unless it’s part of a tiered grouping of containers, a small pot will look lonesome on a wide porch. Herbs and vegetables need more sun, although mints can handle a bit of shade.

Make sure containers are deep enough for vegetables to both establish a strong root system and support whatever staking they’ll need as they grow. Purdue publication HO-200, Container and Raised Bed Gardening, includes a list of suggested minimum container sizes for a range of crops.

Wherever they end up, plants in containers will need to be watered more frequently than those in the ground. Then the water must have some means of escape, especially during times of heavy rain. So drainage holes — you can put stones in the bottom of the pot to keep the soil in — are a must. Remember to empty saucers often. You don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes any more than your plants want to sit in water.

If I’m filling a large container, I try for a mix of colors and greenery and a variety of heights and shapes — something tall and/or spiky, something showy and something that trails or billows. Odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye, so I generally buy container plants in threes or fives, or a single tall one. When growing vegetables, it can be helpful to look for cultivars especially suited for containers — “bush” and “compact” are words to watch for. However, you can get most types of tomato, pepper, cucumber or squash to grow in a container.

And when you’re ready to pour in the soil and do the actual planting, especially with a large container, remember that potting is dirty, weighty work. ’Tis better to fill and plant on location than to strain your back, or leave a trail of dirt behind you, to get it there.

Nancy Crowe

Posted Fri, 04/15/2011 - 1:34 pm