It seems there are an increasing number of people presently turning to container gardening. In fact, I wonder how many people today are gardening who wouldn’t be without this new craze in gardening? Certainly I wouldn’t be growing the vegetables in my back yard that I did this year. Only container gardening made that possible for me. I can only suspect that my fellow numbers are rather large.
And where do they get all their pots and what kinds of pots should be used? There are two schools of thought on the latter question. Purists, and rightfully so, use clay pots. They come in a variety of sizes and can be rather pricey — unless you snag some at a garage sale or a flea market or a local thrift shop. Beyond their classic good looks, there are benefits to using them, the most important of which is that they’re porous. They help wick water away from plant roots.
That’s a big deal in container gardening, as it’s the built up water in containers that over time can compact soil and stress the plants. But clay’s wicking action also means the gardener must water plants more often. One of the other drawbacks to clay pots is that they’re easily broken. If not stored away in winter, they can crumble in winter’s freeze and thaw cycle.
Then, there are all those other kinds of pots made from all of those other kinds of materials: plastic, metal, you-name-it. Some of them are very attractive. They’re also easily bought in most gardening stores. They too can be pricey, but they are often very pretty and convenient. Buy them, take them home, and pot them up. You’re done. It makes life simple.
Then, there are the other pots which may be scrounged from all kinds of sources. and which are limited only by one’s imagination. I recently saw a photograph of a strawberry plant grown in a tiny food tin and hanging from a wooden wall or fence. I’ve tucked that visual into my memory and will probably copy the idea in my own garden. I like garden whimsy.
I’m also a person who likes the rustic look. Among my collection of planters, I have an old, metal coal bucket and a galvanized metal bucket that I’ve used for years. They were my first, fragile step into container gardening. I began using them in desperation, in response to finding myself on a lot which was composed almost completely of hard, black clay.
I grew onions, lettuce, and basil in them — and not very well. One year, I augmented their offerings with a tomato plant. I planted it in my real dirt. It grew a nearly as tall as my waist, and I’m a very short person. It also produced three small tomatoes, which my neighborly groundhog obligingly ate. Life was golden.
Then, gratefully, the book, The Bountiful Container, by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey came into my life. And my serious container gardening effort began. Not only, they said, could everything I’d ever longed to plant be grown in pots, it was easy.
Pots! I needed pots. And I didn’t care where I found them. I thought my lowest point came the day I bought a large storage tote in a local discount store. I berated myself internally: no self-respecting gardener would plant anything in such a contraption. But I wanted tomatoes and the book said I needed a BIG pot. This thing was BIG. I’ve since discovered that I’m not the only person using them.
The thing to keep in mind is no matter what kind of pot you use, unless it is what they call a self-watering container (SWC), it must have drainage holes. And if you’re planning to use containers which weren’t designed as growing boxes, be sure you have something at home with which you can add them to the container. Many people use a drill for this. I don’t own a drill nor do I want one. Instead, I use a box cutter to twirl holes into my plastic pots.
In comparison to clay pots, which as noted earlier wick excess water away from plants, the downside to plastic or any non-porous containers is that they don’t give that service. But both types of containers can be used — and used successfully. However, it is important that you be aware of the differences between the containers and adjust your use of them accordingly.
I’m no purist. I use whatever I can find. I have clay pots. I have plastic. I have darling pots, and I have some pots that are dead ugly. One of the containers I want to add to my stash for next year is a grocery tote. You know, those things they sell at the checkout counter to cart groceries home in? One store has one in the prettiest shade of lime green. I can just see it filled with lettuce next spring. With its built-in handles I might even hang it on a wall, giving a nod to another popular gardening method today, the vertical garden. But more on that later, as well.
Next time, we’ll look at tomatoes and the pots used to grow them, with details on one of the most popular planting options — the self-watering container, referred to by many gardeners as the SWC.