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home : lifestyles & education : lifestyles & education December 17, 2014

Tips for container gardening
Rebecca Thomas
CEA – Staff Chair, Grant County Extension Service

Containers for plants can solve a variety of problems. They put color exactly where you want it; they can be changed much more quickly and easily than garden beds; they can hold anything from pansies to vines to small trees.

The first thing to consider is the container itself. Almost anything will work as long as it is the right size and shape and has enough drainage holes to avoid keeping the roots soaked. The first thing you might do is look around your kitchen, garage, or storage shed to see what you can find that can add just the right whimsical touch and will not be needed again for its original purpose. You will have to make holes in the bottom for drainage, and that doesn’t improve the function of the wheelbarrow or roasting pan or old boot or chicken feeder that you have decided would add just the right accent for your garden.

If you don’t find that perfect container, try garage sales. Otherwise, your local nursery will have many to choose from: plastic, clay, metal, or decorative Styrofoam are all possibilities. And you should not forget the hanging baskets. They take more watering, but they are worth the effort.

Be sure that the height and width ratio are right. Too tall and the planting medium will dry out at the top and stay wet on the bottom; too shallow and the planting medium will not be able to retain enough water. Size, of course, will vary wildly depending on what you want to put in it. As a rule of thumb, plants that will get 2 to 3 feet high will need at least a 3 to 5 gallon container.

The best planting medium will be an artificial soil made up of compost, peat moss, sand, vermiculite and perlite. This will give good aeration and drainage while holding the water long enough for the roots of your plant to absorb it. Garden soil usually compacts and is likely to harbor diseases. With the artificial soil, you will need to use a water-soluble fertilizer on a regular basis, following the directions on the package.

Watering is one of the most important things for your container-grown plants. The requirements will vary with the type of plant, but most should get dry on top before you water. That may take a month if we’re having one of our typical cool, rainy springs, or it may be twice a day in mid-summer heat.

So, pick some plants that will thrive in the conditions you can provide, put them in the right size and shape container, water and feed them as they need it, and enjoy the instant beauty that containers can give your garden.

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