Container Gardening by Paul James

It’s clear to me – and confirmed by research – that container gardening is more popular than ever. And I couldn’t be happier about that, because I’ve been a container gardening fanatic for decades, and it’s encouraging to know other gardeners are discovering just how rewarding it can be.

However, when most folks plant in containers, they typically focus on ornamental plants – annual and perennial flowers, succulents, tropicals, even trees and shrubs. And that’s all well and good. But missing from that list are edible plants -- vegetables, herbs, and fruits -- and that’s too bad, because there are a number of distinct advantages to growing edibles in containers.

For starters, a lot of folks – young ones in particular – are delaying a home purchase and renting instead. Container gardening allows them to enjoy fresh and ridiculously local food without committing the time and effort (not to mention money) toward creating a conventional garden space that they’ll ultimately abandon. And when it comes time to move, their garden moves with them.

At the opposite end of the demographic picture, a growing (and aging) segment of the population is downsizing, saying goodbye to large homes and properties and settling for something smaller and more manageable, whether a conventional home or condo or high-rise apartment. Gardening in containers allows those folks to continue their passion for growing on a smaller scale such as a patio or courtyard or balcony.

For young and old alike, container gardening is just plain easier than conventional gardening. There are no beds to dig. No weeds to pull. No paths to mulch. You just fill a container with potting mix and plant. It’s about as simple as gardening gets.

If cold temperatures threaten your crops, you simply move the containers indoors or into the garage until conditions change, or cover them with a blanket. If whatever you’re growing is getting too much sun or too much shade, all you have to do is move the container to a more suitable spot.

Container-grown veggies, herbs, and fruits are far less susceptible to disease, largely because so many plant diseases are soil borne. The tomatoes I grow (or rather use to grow) in the ground always wound up with some sort of bacterial or fungal disease. The ones I’ve plant in containers have for the past five years been consistently disease free.

So which edibles can you grow in containers? Well you may be surprised to learn that the answer is pretty much anything and everything you want, but keep in mind two important considerations: the size of the container and the weight of the container.

You can’t grow an eight-foot tomato plant in an eight-inch pot. In other words, keep the size of the container and the ultimate size of the plant in proportion. And realize that a large container filled with potting mix can get quite heavy, especially after watering. However, there are beautiful (and practically indestructible) lightweight containers available, and you can add a fair amount of perlite or vermiculite to the mix to make it lighter.

Some of the easiest edibles to grow in containers include greens of all kinds – lettuces, spinach, arugula, and so on – beans, beets, carrots (provided the container is deep enough) cucumbers, eggplant, onions, peas, peppers, radishes, squash, and tomatoes, all culinary herbs (many of which are perennial), blueberries, strawberries, and dwarf fruit trees, although that’s just a partial list. Part of the fun of container gardening is experimenting.

And in response to the increased interest in container gardening, many hybridizers and seed suppliers are focusing on new introductions bred specifically for container culture, such as cucumbers whose vines are only three-feet rather than twelve-feet long. And round carrots that you can grow in a shallow container.

Finally, you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that container-grown plants – both edibles and ornamentals – will need to be watered more often than plants grown in the ground, perhaps every day during the summer months. They’ll also need to be fertilized more often, because frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil more quickly.

I apologize for this rather lengthy post, but once I get on a roll on the subject of container gardening, it’s hard to contain myself.