In the Garden:
Lower South
May, 2010
Regional Report

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Colorful containers of foliage and flowers turned this entrance way into another gardening area.

Contain Your Gardening Enthusiasm

So many plants, so little space! Even though I garden on a sizeable lot, I find that there is just not enough space for all the many wonderful plants I want to grow. Vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, grape vines, shade trees, some lawn for recreational activities, herbs, and more wait in line for a little space in the garden and landscape.

Perhaps you live in a townhouse or apartment and thus take little pity on me and my dilemma! Well, whether you have a large area in which to garden or lack even a single thimble of dirt to call your own, there is hope for us all in container growing.

Container gardening means that virtually anyone can garden provided there's a spot to set a pot. If large shade trees have left you with a paved driveway as the only sunny place on the property, you can still grow tomatoes in containers. If a semi-sunny balcony is the only flat outdoor surface you can call your own, picture it full of vegetables and flowers. Containers can turn a non-garden area into a garden instantly.

Container gardening opens up a whole world of possibilities. You can grow almost anything in a container that you can grow in the ground, provided the container is large enough. Container growing allows for you to create a beautiful grouping of plants and then switch them out when one has passed its peak. Container growing also solves several soil problems such as shallow rocky soils, nematode infested soil, or soils that are waterlogged for extended periods of time.

Plants can thrive in containers if given proper growing conditions. I find that in many cases they will do as well, or in many cases even better, in containers if attention is paid to three key factors: container size, growing medium, water and nutrients.

The larger the plant the larger the container should be. This provides room for the roots, minimizes the chance of it blowing over in a wind and minimizes the need for frequent watering. I use 2 gallon containers for the smallest vegetables, herbs and flowers. For tomatoes and other large garden plants a container that holds at least 5 gallons is preferred.

Here in the sultry south we need to use containers that are a little larger than our northern neighbors. Our plants just need a little more root room and a larger moisture "bank account" due to our hot summer climate. If you try to grow something in too small of a container you'll be watering two or more times a day to keep it from wilting in our summer heat!

A lot of things can be used to make a growing container as long as there are drainage holes in the bottom. An old wheel barrow that was rusting out is now my favorite growing container. I think of it as a garden on the go! I can move it to wherever it looks best or where the sun is just right. Other favorites are a rusted out bucket that is now a hanging "basket" for some pothos ivy and an old iron pot that is home to a variety of herbs. My spouse (whose tastes are much more refined than mine) is holding fast to a household moratorium on using bathroom fixtures for growing containers. Darn, and I had some great ideas in mind!

You can even build a box on the ground and grow in the box. I've seen a very impressive garden made of 2 foot deep landscape timber boxes set on a parking lot! The timber boxes were filled with a good store bought growing mix and the space between them had shredded wood trimmings from a local tree care company. You'd never know there was asphalt beneath this beautiful garden.

To get the most out of your plants, fill the containers with a quality growing medium. Some potting soils don't drain excess water away very well and tend to pack down and get "mucky." Others have very large wood chunks and may not hold moisture well. In larger containers a little garden soil is fine but don't overdo it. Depending on the type of soil, about 25% is about the most I use in a container, if I use any at all.

The goal is to provide plants with evenly moist growing medium for their roots. This mean watering often enough to maintain adequate moisture. How often you will need to water depends on contain size, plant size, growing medium characteristics and sun/shade exposure. That said, be prepared to water your containers about once a day during the hot summer season.

Since the roots are somewhat restricted with container growing, not only will watering need to be more carefully monitored, so will fertilizing. There are a number of soluble fertilizer products that can be used to provide a weekly feeding if needed to maintain good vigor and productivity. Slow release products can also be mixed into the soil around plants to feed them gradually over a period of months.

Give container growing a try this year and expand your gardening possibilities.


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