Container Gardening: What have I learned in year one?

Combing plants is part of the fun.

Combining plants is part of the fun.

First, I’d have to say growing vegetables in containers bears little resemblance to in-ground gardening. Container gardeners don’t use what is commonly thought of as dirt. They use mixes made of a variety of ingredients, none of which is plain-old garden soil. That’s because regular dirt used in containers compacts over time, damaging plant roots and limiting their access to air.

Most container gardeners buy a “gardening mix,” a product which is available just about anywhere under a variety of labels. Just grab a bag, lug it home, dump it into a pot, and start planting. But there are those who say that even this is not enough. They say it’s better for gardeners to make their own mixes by using a variety of substances. Next year I hope to try making a mix which starts out with something called pine bark fines, which is pine bark partially decomposed and finely chopped. But it is also said to be a difficult product to find. We’ll see.

Sound confusing? Well, it is a lot to absorb starting out. But I think it’s worth the effort. Container gardening keeps me from trying to repair the heavy, clay gardening soil in my yard. At my age, that task is beyond my strength, interest, and patience. Plus, I don’t get many weeds in my containers. I seriously dislike pulling weeds or hoeing them down. Additionally, experts say diseases which can infect garden soil are avoided, another plus in my book. And if I need to move my pots around to follow the sun, I can. I can pup pots anywhere, on the patio, in the driveway, on a porch, what have you.

On the down side, containers must be watered often. For some people that’s something they’d rather not do. For my money, I’ll swap out watering for weed pulling any old time. Plus there are self-watering containers for sale, or instructions for building your own self-watering planters are available all over the Web. More on those later,

And what about yield? I suspect it’s all over the map. Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey in their excellent book, The Bountiful Container, write that container gardeners will never experience the yield that in-ground gardeners do. They say, though, if you’ve limited space what you will get is great tasting produce. And I am so with them on that. I cannot tell you how much I’ve enjoyed eating my homegrown produce this year. Plus, as in that old saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” you should see how seriously some people take their container gardening. They use large containers and line up lots and lots of them like soldiers all in a row. I have to believe their take in home-grown veggies is huge. But I garden for one person. I don’t need large harvests.

What about my yield? Well, in this, my first year, it was spotty. Things didn’t really start taking off for me until I began fertilizing everything. Then, things ticked up quite noticeably. Plus, (big sigh here) I learned that gardening sites which start out sunny in spring don’t necessarily stay that way after tree leaves start popping out. Also, I am at heart a lover of potager gardens and English country gardens. I want my “gardening” to be pretty as well as productive. So I lose some efficiency due to that.

But one of my greatest joys, this year, was the visual impact of a pot of bronze basil combined with nasturtiums spilling out of a planter. So I’ll probably always be looking for the interesting containers or pleasing pot combinations which bother the more practical vegetable gardeners not a whit. In fact, upon seeing my collection of tubs and plants for the first time one of my friends declared, “That’s cute.” (I think she was being too kind.)

Mostly my little gardening experiment in this my first full year was tasty. But I have bigger and better plans for next year. But for my next entry here, I’ll give you an overview of growing tomatoes in pots and the pots they grow in.

This entry was posted in container gardening, edibles, food, gardening, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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