Container Gardening

Container Gardening
Containers come in a variety of sizes and shapes
by Barbara Sanders
Small spaces in the yard, on a patio, or on a deck are great growing places for container gardens.  If you are just starting, keep it simple.

Decide what to plant- Lettuce seeds can be started now.  For all seeds, read the directions on the packet. Other choices include: spicy greens such as mustard and Arugula (rocket), radishes, green onions (scallion), cilantro (coriander), dill, and spinach. Or purchase potted herbs from a nursery.  A few fun ones are: chives, oregano, parsley, basil, thyme, borage. If conditions are a bit drier, or in a separate pot: rosemary and sage (you may need to bring them in for the winter, as they are not hardy in most mountain areas). Adding annuals is fun too: salvia, zinnia, marigolds, nasturtiums.

Find a good location- Easy to walk to, water nearby, and light. Light is most important. Many seed packets and garden books suggest “full sun”. Well, our Colorado sun will burn most greens! My suggestion is “dappled” sun. Aspen trees offer light shade. Six hours of light per day is optimum.
Even a water trough can be used as a planter

Choose a container- Recycling places have a variety of containers and many creatively adaptable choices. Look for one with a hole in the bottom to allow the water to drain. You can drill a hole if needed. Because of our dry conditions here, non-porous containers are preferred or the plants will dry out too fast. Remember, the bigger the container, the heavier it will be when filled with dirt.

Fill the container with soil- Best to use the “soil-less” mixtures as they are lightweight and “plant ready”. Garden dirt and/or “topsoil” are heavy with clay particles which don’t allow the plant roots to breathe, and may contain weed seeds and disease organisms. Do not put pebbles in the bottom of the pot, as this does not improved drainage, and can cause a perched water table. Very little soil will come out of the hole. Fill the pot up to 1 inch below the rim. With a large container, you may want to start with Styrofoam packaging peanuts as they are inert and lightweight. A piece of landscaping cloth can be used on top before adding soil.

Now your container is ready for seeds or plants- With seeds, follow packet directions.  With nursery grown plants, check the roots before potting. If they seem winding around the root ball, gently untangle them to allow them to spread out.  Place the plants as deep as they were grown at the nursery. Press into the new soil firmly. Spacing and design is a matter of choice. Lettuce seeds can be started amongst the herbs, eventually filling in any spaces.

Water until the water drains from the bottom of the pot, then wait until the first inch of soil becomes a bit dry before watering again. Then water until water drains from bottom. If the soil pulls away from the edges of the pot, it has been allowed to get too dry. You will be watering frequently, welcome to Colorado!  Some folks use polymer crystals which expand with water. In theory, they should provide water for the plants, but in reality, they don't supply enough moisture.

Maintaining this oasis is pretty straight forward- pinching growing tips allows the plant to fill out, removing dead flowers and leaves makes the container attractive. Fertilizing is a must. A water-based fertilized added to your watering can is best. Follow instructions on the product label. You may also have some visiting insects: aphids, earwigs, slugs, caterpillars, etc. There are websites to help identify the good and bad.  Look for advice for food crops. Aphids are a pain. Water spray removal may uproot your garden. A soap-based product will work but follow the directions carefully. Earwigs can be trapped in rolled newspaper. Slugs can be sprinkled with table salt but be careful of adding too much salt to your soil. For caterpillars, the abrasive nature of Diatomaceous Earth cuts holes in their exoskeleton and dehydrates them.

Sources:
www.ext.colostate.edu          Fact Sheet No. 7.238 CMG GardenNotes#731
www.migarden.msu.edu        Successful Container Gardens

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by E. Smith
The Salad Garden by Joy Larkham  (English Author)
The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening by C. Brickell. Ed.

Barbara Sanders and her husband moved to Steamboat from Hawaii in 1997.  She learned about Colorado plants and trees through the Master Gardener program and while volunteering at the Yampa River Botanic Park.  Barbara finds native plants most interesting as “they are adapted to our crazy, changeable climate and to our different soils” and her vegetable garden the most fun, which she tends with her husband, Bill.

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