By Paul James
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 – especially newbies -- are discovering just how rewarding it can be. But exactly what are people growing?
In a word…everything.
The classic “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller” combinations of annuals for sun or shade remain hugely popular, but many people are taking the same approach with perennials, and with equal success.
Trees and shrubs – at least those that remain relatively compact – do great in containers. Think Japanese maples, Hydrangeas, azaleas, Abelias, roses, Spiraeas, and conifers of all kinds, just to name a few.
Tropicals and succulents in containers can liven up the patio or pool area from spring through early fall, and spend the colder months indoors as houseplants.
And let’s not forget edibles, from leafy greens and herbs to, well, to practically anything you like to eat.
So why has container gardening become so popular?
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 as well as beautiful and pollinator-attracting ornamentals 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, a condo, or an 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.
Just remember to keep the size of the container and the ultimate size of the plant in proportion. In other words, don’t try to grow a six-foot tomato in a six-inch pot. 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. You can also place the container on a pot dolly so it’s easier to move.
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.
But that’s a small price to pay for all the joy you’ll get of container gardening, don’t you think?