Container gardening dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures from places like Egypt, Rome, and the Orient. Despite lack of archaeological evidence to support their exact whereabouts, Greek and Roman writers like Strabo and Rufus documented other details about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the most famous container gardens in the history of civilization. Every generation of gardener, green thumb or not, has its own fair share of container gardeners.
Benefits of Container Gardening
Small-scale gardening has benefits that simply are not achieved by huge plots of vegetable plants or perfectly manicured yards. As with everything in life, container gardening has a few disadvantages, but the positive aspects far outweigh them. Here are some of them:
- Container gardens are great for beginners. If things do not work out and the plants die, no one has to patch and re-seed the lawn. In fact, you won’t need a lawn at all.
- If a plant in a container garden gets a disease, like a fungus, then it is less likely to spread to all other plants in the garden. It is also much easier to treat plants in a container garden for pests.
- Unlike a regular garden or other lawn chores, there is less back pain involved with a container garden. Just tailor the height of the containers to something that allows you to work comfortably while either sitting or standing.
- Container gardening makes it easier to save seeds used to create future plants or share with other gardening enthusiasts.
- Growing things in containers allows for portability. Some container gardeners even bring their plants indoors during cooler months to keep the plants alive throughout the entire year. Nothing says home like a garden, and if you move then you can take your container garden with you to your new home.
- The variety of containers available to you allows you to design your small-scale garden in a way that both fits your needs and complements your unique personality. Indoor container gardens are a wonderful addition to any room’s interior design.
- Deer, rabbits, and other wildlife are less likely to dine on plants in your container garden. Neighborhood pets off the leash are less likely to trample through a container garden, and chances are they will not use it as a place to do their personal business.
- Container gardens are extremely kid-friendly and are a great way to spend time together as a family or introduce the hobby to your little ones. When my children took up the hobby, their eating habits improved. The magic of growing something from tiny seedlings to ripe produce had them eager to try different varieties of fruits and vegetables that they previously shunned.
Disadvantages of Container Gardening
There are few drawbacks to container gardening. It limits the size of your growing space to the size of your container. If you plan on doing a lot of canning or have a large family, then perhaps your container garden would be better used for things like edible flowers used in gourmet salad or herbs for cooking. Small-scale gardens also mean more frequent upkeep. Because the soil is limited to the size of the container, so is the moisture in the soil. This means you could find yourself having to water the plants more often. Frequent watering can potentially drain vital nutrients from the soil, so you may also have to fertilize plants in container gardens more often than you would ones planted in the bare earth. Depending on the size and type of containers you use, this could also add to the initial start-up costs.
Gardening in Upcycled Containers
Overall, container gardening is a rather inexpensive hobby. The herb garden in my back yard cost less than ten dollars to create. My brother is a contractor and often offers leftover materials to me instead of throwing them out. For this project, I used half a dozen cinderblocks. They are standard blocks with two square holes running through each. I painted them using exterior house paint found on the Oops! shelf at the local hardware store. Turning the blocks on their sides, I filled the bottom half of each hole with gravel, filled the top half with soil, and then planted two different herbs in each block. Old paint stirring sticks labeled with permanent markers made great plant stakes.
Terra cotta pots, ceramic urns, baskets, and patio planters all make great containers for small-scale gardening, but I prefer looking at what I already have on hand and upcycling where necessary. Anything that holds water and allows drainage is a potential container garden. This is an area where you can really let your imagination run wild! I’ve seen people use just about anything for a container – old boots and high-topped tennis shoes, metal washtubs and claw-foot bathtubs, an old bird feeder with its top removed, teacups, a tree stump, a wooden bucket, an old armchair, and old tires turned inside out so that they resembled something far more expensive.
One of my favorite container gardens was an old dresser. Its drawers were left open at staggered amounts to resemble stair steps, with a different type of plant in each one. While vacationing in New Jersey, I saw one front yard that had a rowboat as a lawn ornament. Tilted on its side, brightly hued blossoms cascaded overboard into the lawn. And in South Carolina we passed a house that had a most unusual container garden – the bed of a truck! Turned to display an assortment of bumper stickers to passing motorists, myriad of blooms attracted colorful butterflies to the front yard.
Container Gardening Tips
There are things to remember with container gardening that may not apply to ones planted directly in the lawn. Light-colored containers are less likely to absorb heat, and more likely to keep roots cool during extremely warm months. Put heavy or oversized pots on a platform with wheels and you will find it easier to move when the time may come. Using good soil is important, but garden centers also often sell soilless potting mixes. These tend to weigh less and make containers easier to move. Plants with thin leaves need less water, but ones with thicker leaves might benefit from a handful of mulch to help soil retain its moisture. If moving containers inside for the winter, be sure to choose a spot that allows plants the benefit of adequate natural sunlight. However, two things to avoid when selecting containers for plants include narrow openings and cheap plastic. Narrow openings hinder a plant’s full growing potential, and cheap plastic dries out with extended exposure to the sun.
The most important thing to remember when planting in containers is this: be sure that the size of the plant complements the size of the container. For example, you can expect a small pot to hinder the growth of full-sized tomatoes. These beauties need stakes and room to grow to their full potential. Be sure the container you select anchors the weight of the plant when heavy laden with plump, ripe fruits to avoid spillage. On the other hand, planting garlic in an oversized pot is probably not a good idea unless you have plans to use a lot of the sharp-tasting herb. Garlic has short roots and because it takes up very little space, it thrives in shallow containers like dish gardens.
Mix and Match Plants and Containers
Do not be afraid to experiment placing different plants near each other when creating a garden that uses several different containers. Mix and match plants of different sizes and types. For instance, try a tall plant in a bigger container or a vine that tumbles over the side of a lower one. Last year, the cluster of various-sized flowerpots next to the stairs leading up to my front porch held a variety of annuals. Bright green jalapeño peppers, hot pink begonias, pastel purple wavy-style petunias, crimson red salvia, and leafy coleus tinged with pale red flourished with the right amounts of sunlight and water. Friends and neighbors paid complements to the arrangement all summer, and the only real maintenance took place once every few days when it was time to relieve the stems of their dead blooms or pick freshly ripened peppers.
However you choose to container garden, make it your own and don’t be afraid to let it reflect your unique personality. You could add some seashells and a small piece of driftwood for a seaside effect. Add a little moss and some smooth stones or pebbles for a woodsy feel. Is your china cabinet or other shelf of mementos overflowing with inexpensive figurines and other trinkets? Send them off for a vacation in your container garden! One of my favorites is a glass owl that hides behind a spider plant growing in a metal bucket hanging from the side of my deck. He is out of sight unless the sun hits him the right way and then brief rainbows of color shoot out in all directions. If you have a favorite container idea or story to share, why not leave a comment? We’d love to hear from you!
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