Container Gardening

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Container Gardening

Container gardening is one of the easiest and quickest ways of getting started gardening. It works especially well for people living in apartments with little space to spare for plants. It can work just as well in patio areas, on balconies or in gardens with poor soil. I have spent hours researching this from reputable sources to give you the best intro to container gardening [1,2,3,4,5,6]!

Table of Contents

Benefits

First off, the benefits. Container gardening works especially well for people that don’t have a garden and have minimal space on their balcony or by their windowsills. Containers come in all different types and sizes to suit different types of plants and locations. If you use high quality potting soil, you also get rid of the headaches surrounding soil related diseases and ensure plants will grow to their full potential. Because containers can most often be easily moved around, you can optimize the growing conditions for plants.

Bell Pepper Plants
Bell Pepper Plants on my balcony

I have a south-facing balcony with two bell pepper plants in pots. Seeing as the angle of the sun changes during the day and I want to give the plants enough direct sunlight during Norwegian summers, I move the plants two-three times per day. This is easy to do during the current Covid home office days. I can also easily move the plants indoors by a window if the weather gets too cold or stormy (pepper plants do not like too much wind).

Container Material

Material wise, wood has a nice design, good price, but can begin to rot after a few years. Terra cotta makes it harder to keep the plants moist because the clay lets the water evaporate out more. It is important to keep terra cotta indoors during the winter. Otherwise, terra cotta containers can freeze and crack [1]. Plastic lasts long, can look cheap, keeps the moisture in, but can also lead to root bound plants (discussed above).

Container Size

When it comes to the container, many different varieties work. It is important that the container is food safe. The container should be at least 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. A bigger container has more space for soil. More soil retains moisture better. In general, bigger is better for vegetables. However, a very large container can be difficult to water properly [5,6].

Different Types of Containers

Next, I will explain the different types of containers available in most gardening and hardware stores.

Rectangular Planter

Rectangular Planter
Rectangular Planter [Amazon.com]

The thin rectangular planter fits on most balcony railings, however the wind may knock it over. Make sure the container has a drainage hole so that the plant’s roots do not stand in water. This can lead to root rot. Also make sure to have a drip tray, so that water does not leak down onto your neighbor’s balconies below [4].

Railing Planter

Railing Planter
Railing Planter [HomeDepot]

The sit on top of railing planter can have one or two separate depressions, which can easily fit different types of balcony railings (e.g. 2×4 or 2×6). The depressions makes this type more stable and harder for wind to knock it over. It also tends to be deeper, letting plants grow bigger root systems. More soil also means the plants do not need to be watered as often. This is because the soil will remain moist for longer periods of time [4].

Hanging Planters

Hanging Planter
Hanging Planters [Umbra.com]

Hanging planters are a great idea for small balconies to use up the vertical space available in balconies. They are pretty cheap and can be found most places. Overwatering may be an issue in the beginning, so make sure to think about this. Also, make sure to see if the plants get enough sunlight or shade in the location. If the hanging planter does not get enough sunlight, it could be a good idea to buy plants that prefer shade. Hanging plants that grow downwards are great ideas for these types of containers [4].

Grow Bags

Next off, we’ll discuss grow bags. The issue with plastic containers is a phenomenon called root bound plants [image]. When a plant’s roots hit the bottom or sides of a plastic container, they start circling around and growing up the sides of the container. This is less than ideal. Grow bags solve this by being much more porous on all sides. When the root tip hits the side of a grow bag, it will die. This is because there is too little humidity and oxygen for the root tip. The plant responds by growing more branches of roots. This leads to a much more fibrous root system. Some root bags are also foldable, making it easy to store away when not being used [4].

Hanging Shoe Rack

Hanging Shoe Rack
Hanging Shoe Rack [TheOwnerBuilderNetwork]

Last, but not least, the hanging shoe rack. This is another great way of using vertical space. You can easily grow herbs, flowers and lettuce. Make sure the wall has good light. Also, check to make sure the water drains out of the shoe racks. If not, cut some small holes for easy drainage. Shoe racks are also quite cheap [4].

Plants to Grow in Containers

You can grow all types of plants in containers. For edible plants, choose things you enjoy eating. That way, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. For vegetables, it’s a good idea to look for the smaller variants, often called dwarf or compact. Vegetables such as peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini squash, cucumber, leafy greens and salads can easily be grown in containers. You can also easily grow herbs, such as basil, sage, parsley, thyme. If a beginner, it’s easier to start with a starter plant than grow from seed. Larger vegetables, such as pumpkin, large melons and corn are not ideal for containers. Tomatoes can be grown in containers. It is important to have enough soil and use stakes to let the plants grow vertical. Varieties such as tumbling tomb can even be grown in hanging baskets.

Optimal Growing Conditions

Light and Temperature

Once you have decided which plants to grow, it’s important that they get optimal growing conditions to grow healthily. Vegetables especially like the correct lighting and temperature. Fruiting vegetables often require at least six hours of direct sunlight. Make sure to put your containers somewhere where they get enough sunlight. Check every thirty minutes or so to be sure that the spot can get the required amount of sunlight. If you live in a hot climate, plants may require shade. It might also be a good idea not to use dark colored containers, seeing as the soil may get too hot [5,6].

Watering

Most plants enjoy getting enough water. Especially tomatoes require plenty of water. To easily test if your plant needs more, water, put a finger in the soil. If the first few centimeters of the soil are dry, it could be a good idea to water them. In the height of summer, you may need to water multiple times a day [5,6].

Soil

Moving on to the soil, it is important to use quality potting soil. Please do not use garden soil, seeing as it is often too compact and may contain weeds and other soil based diseases. Too compact soil will also not drain properly. Also, quality soil includes enough nutrients for optimal plants growth [5,6].

If you live in a colder climate, it is important that the soil should at least be 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius). You can use a thermometer to check if unsure. If you have started seedlings indoors and want to put them outside, it’s a good idea to harden them so they get used to the colder temperatures. Put them outside for an hour or so in the beginning and gradually increase the temperature outside [5,6].

Fertilizer

Vegetables especially may require more nutrients than the soil can provide. Therefore, it’s a good idea to add extra fertilizer a few times every growing season. Read the instructions on the fertilizer. You can also use compost instead if you prefer that.

Summary and Recommendations

If you are a beginner, it can be a good idea to buy a self watering container. These containers collect water from the bottom and then one or multiple wicks move water up to the plants. The benefit of self watering containers are that the plants always get enough water and they do not need to be watered as often. Some good examples are the City Jungle with Trellis, the Urban Garden Planter and Earthbox Organic Kit (not affiliate links). I myself have a Lechuza Cube, which works very well as a herb garden. Now that you know the basics, buy a simple setup and get started today!

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AUTHOR

Every since studying engineering, Bjorn has been interested in how technology can help grow plants quicker.

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