Got pot?

Container gardening brings flowers and vegetables to the smallest areas

Container gardening is a sustainable way to get fresh produce and to have vibrant colors in the apartment or on the balcony or even in the largest garden.

Here are some tips for choosing and preparing containers and the plants to go in them. These techniques are mostly for outdoor, non-cactus use, although plainly, some potted plants can be brought inside when the temperature begins to drop this fall.

Pots can be made out of just about any material, but they must have adequate drainage. Often, the largest containers, particularly ceramics, have but a single hole for drainage, which can rot roots. Use a half-inch glass-and-tile drill bit to add a few more holes, then cover the bottom with weed fabric to keep the soil from draining out. When recycling containers, always be cognizant of what was previously held, particularly if planting vegetables. Used containers can be sterilized with one part bleach to nine parts water.

Don’t use straight soil for containers. Potting mix must drain quickly and yet hold water. There are many available mixes. Ed Bath, owner of Garden Shop Nursery, which had a soft opening last weekend at its new location at 3640 Mayberry Drive, said the key to good vegetables is to use a high end mix. “It’s nice to go organic,” he said. “You might pay a little more.” He recounted an experiment in which he planted four-inch tomatoes in a variety of potting mixes in 15-gallon pots. The Miracle Gro tomato was chlorotic (yellow and nutrient-starved), whereas the Dr. Earth and Gardener’s Gold pots were lush. The Miracle Gro pot only produced six fruit over the season, but the organic mixes produced up to 64 tomatoes per plant.

Container-grown plants must be watered more frequently than those grown in a traditional garden. This may be the trickiest part of container gardening because outdoor conditions can quickly affect the conditions within the pot. Essentially, if the soil is dry beneath the surface of the soil, it’s time to hydrate. Water the whole surface until water comes out the drainage holes. Once a week can be enough in cool weather, but once a day may not be enough in the height of summer.

Because of the high amount of watering, nutrients are quickly leached out of the potting mix. A dose of liquid fertilizer—mmm, fish emulsion—every two weeks during the growing season is about right.

There are essentially two strategies for choosing flowers for containers: (1) Plants blooming for a single season. For example, a container filled with tulip bulbs is good for spring. When the plants have finished blooming, the pot’s moved, and a pot with flowers in bloom is brought to the fore. (2) Multiple plants, each blooming in a different season, in a single container. Gardeners want to consider things like plant height and leaf color and texture for this method—mix them up.

When planting vegetables in pots, don’t crowd plants. It’s OK to plant many radishes close, but a single tomato or pepper plant is probably sufficient for a medium-sized pot (more than five gallons). Lots of vegetables are easily grown in pots: green onions, leaf lettuce, radishes, tomatoes (you might look for a determinate variety), eggplant and peppers, to name a few. Cucumbers, green beans and squash can be grown up trellises.