In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
April, 2005
Regional Report

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Grow some herbs in a lined basket on the kitchen windowsill, within snipping distance of the stove.

Gardening in Pots

You don't have to have a yard or garden to grow plants and keep your thumb "green." You can grow a garden in containers. Everything from flowers, vegetables, and herbs to hanging plants can be grown successfully in containers.

The beauty of container gardening lies in its versatility and portability. You can experiment by planting in different containers -- from antiques to contemporary -- and change from one season to the next or year to year. If you have to move, your container gardens can accompany you to your new home. If you live in an apartment or condominium, growing in containers allows you to keep that connection with green and growing things, a link that helps us relax and appreciate nature.

Start your container gardening project by giving some thought to where you'll be locating your pots. Light is one of the most critical factors for plant growth. You can supply water, fertilizer, and grooming, but you cannot duplicate natural sunlight. So choose the right plants for the location. Since I like to cook in my spare time, I enjoy growing herbs in containers. Most herbs need 4 to 6 hours of sunlight to perform successfully and be tasty.

Some plants can be damaged by too much sun, however. Direct sun -- particularly in the afternoon -- can scorch the foliage or dry out the growing mixture too fast. Southern and western sunlight is the hottest, eastern light is the coolest, and a northern exposure provides the least amount of sunlight.

If the pots are getting too much sun, shade the area with a netting or awning. You can plant a trellis of sweet peas or runner beans and place the pot on the sunny side or your shade-loving plants on the opposite of the pea trellis. White walls will reflect sunlight so take advantage of light-colored backgrounds or use aluminum foil as a background.

Also, think about how winds will affect you container gardens. Dry winds can dehydrate and stress your plants.

Containers
There are many styles and options available, just be sure they have drainage holes. Clay pots dry out faster, but I like the earthy look. Glazed containers or ceramic pots don't dry out as rapidly as clay, and they hold up fairly well if protected in the winter. They can be a bit heavier but are well worth the investment.

Decorative containers, old buckets, kettles, old wastebaskets, plastic-lined baskets, and other antique containers all can be planted up. Be creative.

Make it easy on yourself by having the watering source close by. The most important maintenance chore is to check the gardens daily for water needs. Type of potting mixture, exposure to sunlight, and wind all determine how fast the plants will dry out. You can add water-absorbing polymers to the growing mix to reduce the frequency of watering. Read and follow label directions.

When watering with a hose, I recommend a water wand with a shut-off valve. Be careful if you place your pots in the open, as an unexpected hailstorm can dampen more than your enthusiasm.

Soil Mixes
Use a quality potting mix that drains well and does not compact. You can replace the soil annually or top off the soil in the spring when planting a new container garden. Don't buy cheap potting soils. They may be infested with bugs or have a high salt content.

Mix some of your favorite herbs with flowers. The unique foliage of some herbs, such as variegated thyme, will add color and diversity. Chives, baby carrots, and lemongrass will add height. Try growing things you might not think of, like garlic cloves, lemongrass, rosemary, and arugula. Experiment and have fun.


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