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Getting into Container Gardening

Small outdoor spaces are a common issue for many urban- and suburbanites. You might have a patio or deck, balcony or veranda, but little space exists for growing those vegetables that create a fun summer activity as well as feed the family. If you don’t have the extra lawn area to plant a full-fledged garden, or if you enjoy mobility and easy access to your garden, then container gardening may be the way to go.

Container gardening consists simply of planting select vegetables—tomatoes, peppers, herbs, whatever—in pots or other containers and strategically placing them out in the sun on your patio, balcony, or stoop. Better yet, just about any container can be used for planting, so it’s a great way to reuse some household stuff that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

Author Jeff Bredenberg, famous for his How-To-Cheat- books, has a new book coming out: How To Cheat at Gardening and Yard Work. This book offers tips and advice on all sorts of backyard projects, including several on container gardening:

  • Convert all manner of found objects into containers for plants, but there must be drainage to prevent root rot. If the container doesn’t have holes, either drill them or create artificial drainage with 2 inches of pea gravel or wood chips. Put a screen over the drainage substance to prevent the soil from washing away.
  • Don’t skimp on the size of your container and then cram too many plants into it. The plants will battle for water and suffer for it.
  • Water every two or three days: more often if the plants are in full sun. Consider a timer-controlled drip system.
  • Add compost so the soil in the container will retain water longer (plus it’s great for the plants)! Use time-release fertilizer and be done with that chore for the season.
  • Stands or clay “feet”—anything that lifts the container off the deck or the ground—are a good idea. This will reduce staining underneath and will keep the container garden away from pests in the yard.
  • Put the planters on small dollies so you can rearrange them or move them easily in and out of sunlight.
  • Small pots dry out quickly on hot days. Give them a big drink before you leave for work and add a couple of ice cubes to the surface of the soil to give an extra helping of water gradually.

Some ideas for found-object containers that will also add a little flare and eco-friendliness to your yard are old wheelbarrows, bathtubs, crates (lined with plastic), even old tires will work. Those are the larger side of things. On the smaller end you have buckets, old pots or pans (don’t forget to drill for drainage!), plastic food containers (for smaller items) and, as Bredenberg put it, just about anything else. And if you are of the avid do-it-yourselfer ilk you can always build your own planter box.

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