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No land? Grow a Garden right on your front porch or patio
Container Gardening 101

Sitting on your porch or patio in summer, surrounded by plants, ripening tomatoes, ever bearing strawberries, peppers, flowers, is simple delightful. It is also a great option if you want to grow food or flowers and can’t or don’t want to plant in the soil around your home. 

Truth is, though, plants perfer to be in the ground where they can stretch their roots out into the soil to get the nutrition and water they need, where they benefit from the antural mineral and living elements, the warmth and cool of the soil. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow lots of great food adn flowers in pots, But you will need to give them a bit more care as containers limit their options for self care. 

Here are some tips to get you started. 

Choose and prepare your containers

The options for containers is limitless. You can purchase a wide variety of ceramic, terra cotta, plastic containers. They can be decorative or ordinary. You can keep expenses down or spend a lot. An interesting option is a series of pots made of plastic recovered from the ocean.

You can repurpose many containers as long as the size is appropriate for your plants and you provide adequate drainage.

Size: 8” or deeper will allow roots to expand and also hold enough soil so the roots can get adequate nutrition and moisture from waterings.

Herbs and flowers can be quite at home in a ½ to 1 gallon pot, while fruiting (such as peppers and tomatoes) plants need more space. A 5 gallon bucket is not too large for a tomato plant. Peppers need a little less space – a 12” pot is fine.

Safety Note: Never use a container that has EVER held any substances toxic to humans or animals.

Preparation: Wash new or repurposed containers with hot, soapy water. Leave in the sun to dry.

Drainage:

Plants need water, but roots that sit in water will soon suffocate, rot and the plant will struggle or even die.

Remove any drainage trays that come with your plastic pots. They protect your patio, but are very likely to ruin your plants by holding water in the soil. Some pots have drip trays that cannot be removed. If you want to use these, make sure you don’t over water. Watch carefully for water sitting in the drip tray. If this occurs, prop the pot up on one side so the excess water can drain out. Avoid using such pots where they will get rain or be very sure to check on them to make sure there is no standing water in the drip trays.

Here are two ways to create drainage holes in plastic pots depending on the sturdiness of the pot:

1. For really sturdy pots, get out your drill, turn the pot upside down. Hold it firmly with one hand and drill drainage holes:
6 – 8 holes with a 3/8” drill bit for a 4 – 6 “ pot.
For larger pots, drill 8 or ten holes with a 1/2” bit.
For very large pots, 6 – 8 holes with a 3/4” bit. Always drill holes in the lowest area for the best drainage.

2) For lighter weight pots that flex when you press a drill bit against the bottom, it may work better to use a hot soldering iron to make drain holes.

Often new plastic pots do not have drainage holes in them. They may have spots you can push out to create drainage holes. Turn the pot upside down and press on the spot with a screw driver. Some would be holes are marked and you will need to drill them. Always be generous with the drainage holes.

Terra Cotta (red clay pots) generally have adequate drainage. They also dry out faster which is perfect for plants like peppers and tomatoes that like hot temperatures and slightly drier soil. These can be hard on more tender plants like spearmint and lettuce. They can work fine, just attend to keeping them watered.

Choose Your Soil:

Garden soil is not a good choice. It generally has some degree of clay in it and will hold too much water thus excluding the air that plant roots need and lead to root death.

 

Choose a high quality organic potting soil. I use one called Moo Grow that is formulated here in Vermont.

Choose a Location:

Choose a spot where your plants will get 6 – 10 hours of sun per day. Morning sun is preferable to afternoon sun. The sun in mid summer from 3 – 6 pm can be really harsh on some plants. If you have full afternoon sun in your location, consider how you could add some shade.

If your pots sit directly on a porch, patio, asphalt, stone or other surface that collects heat in the sun, you may need to put something under your plants that create a small air space underneath.

Choose your plants:

Many plants do well in containers. Some that don’t do as well are root vegetables and some herbs. Horseradish, carrots, beets. But if you want to try these, do it! Experimenting is fun! You can get varieties of carrots that are shorter.

Tips:

When to plant:

Here in Vermont, our official last date of frost is around the first of June and varies some around the state. One of the benefits of container gardening is that you can easily cover or bring in your plants if a frost is forecast. If you are willing to watch the weather forecast and protect your plants, you can get an earlier start on the gardening season.

Hardening off your plants:

If your plants were started indoors or in a greenhouse, they must be gradually acclimated to sunlight. Sunburn can badly damage or kill your plants. It looks like dry brown spots. Put them out in the morning for a couple of hours and increase by an hour or two every day. I do this by placing them where the shadows will fall in an hour or two and then move them gradually out to where the shadows fall later.

If your plants get wilty in the sun, get them into the shade and water them. They will likely revive and you can begin again and make the changes more slowly. If they are sunburned, you can remove the badly damaged sections and leave them in a shady location for a day or so to recover. They may or may not survive.

If you plant seeds in containers and they come up I their permanent or similar location, they do not need hardening off.

Why not give Container Gardening a try?
Run into problems?
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