The Garden Patch: No space for a garden? Try containers – Osage County Online | Osage County News

The Garden Patch: No space for a garden? Try containers

052514-garden-excericiseWell, we talk a lot about gardens in this spot in this publication – that’s what we’re supposed to do. But – what if you don’t have the space for a typical garden? Well, then, let’s talk about container gardening. Anyone can do that – you don’t need a lot of space – just the desire and motivation! And, once started, it’s far less work than a big garden! Here we go …

Container gardening is simply growing plants in anything but the ground. It is the easiest kind of gardening because it can be done anywhere at any time of year! Fresh veggies for Christmas? Who you tryin’ to kid? And, you can grow plants in almost any container that will hold soil. Some examples include:

  • Clay – the inexpensive reddish-brown pots made of terracotta that you see in every garden center.
  • Ceramic or glass – fancier containers purchased for their beauty.
  • Concrete – heavy-duty planters that are often large and difficult to move.
  • Plastic – low cost alternative to ceramic or glass containers.
  • Wood – old barrels and livestock water troughs that add a casual look to a garden.
  • Synthetic – relatively new to the garden market, containers that look like heavy terracotta or concrete but are in fact made of heavy duty foam and are very lightweight.

Other fun containers include old leather work boots, old bath and wash tubs, old wooden boxes or dresser drawers, and recycled plastics such as 2-liter drink bottles or gallon milk jugs.

Be water wise

Now let’s visit about water-wise gardening …

One of the easiest ways to foolproof a garden is to grow plants that will survive if you forget to water them. The term water-wise means being smart about water conservation by applying water in well controlled amounts and locations in your garden. The concept of water-wise gardening is based on the following seven rules:

  • Plan and design for water conservation and beauty from the start. A little research into what grows where and which combinations work well can create a colorful year round garden.
  • Create practical grassy areas of manageable sizes, shapes and appropriate grasses. Natural areas require less water. Use them as widely as possible.
  • Choose plants that have low water requirements. Group plants of similar water needs. Then experiment to determine how much and how often to water the plants.
  • Prepare the soil by using compost or manure as needed by the site and type of plants used.
  • Use rocks or organic mulch such as chips or pine straw to reduce evaporation and keep the soil cool.
  • Irrigate efficiently using properly designed systems (including hose attachments) and by applying the right amount of water at the right time. Early morning is best for watering plants because it reduces evaporation and the spread of plant disease.
  • Maintain your landscape properly by mowing, weeding, pruning and fertilizing at the right time of the year.

CAUTION: DO NOT USE ARSENIC-TREATED WOOD CONTAINERS OR TIMBERS to grow fruits or vegetables that you or wildlife will eat. This kind of wood leeches (or leaks) poisons into the soil. In turn, plant roots absorb the poisons and become toxic to people and wildlife. This kind of wood is used to build wooden decks, some outdoor furniture and some playground equipment. If you cannot find a label that says the wood is untreated, do not use it. Find an alternative.


Now let’s talk about growing plants with no soil …

Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without dirt. The term hydroponics means “water working”. Growing plants in a water and nutrient solution (without soil) allows a gardener to grow plants more efficiently with less labor and time. There are many benefits to growing plants using hydroponics.

  • Most hobby hydroponic gardens require less work than soil gardens because there is no soil to till or weeds to pull.
  • Eliminating soil in the garden also eliminates all soil-borne diseases.
  • A hydroponic garden does not use as much water as a soil garden because weeds do not grow in a hydroponic garden.
  • In a hydroponic garden, plants grow closer together, thereby increasing your harvest from the same size garden.
  • A small hydroponic garden can be set up almost anywhere.
  • Some studies suggest that hydroponic produce is higher in nutritional value than field-grown crops because the nutrients are controlled and environmental factors like pollution and drought are eliminated.
  • Hydroponic plants can be grown year-round indoors.

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce and beans are often grown using hydroponics. In a soil garden, plants get most of their nutrients from the soil. In hydroponics plants get nutrients directly from the water in which they grow. Some systems use an inert growing medium such as perlite (a lightweight volcanic rock) or expanded clay pebbles (artificial absorbent stones) in place of soil. These growing media support the roots and retain and circulate nutrients to allow the plants to absorb them easily. Inert growing mediums also eliminate the need for soil and the plant diseases it can carry.

Hydroponics is divided into active and passive systems. Active systems use pumps to circulate a nutrient solution through the plants’ root tips. Passive systems work without pumps. The plants’ root tips are set in a nutrient solution or growing medium, and the roots draw nutrients from the solution or surrounding medium to nourish the plant. This method is best for hobbyists and small scale growers.

Had enough for today? Some of this stuff is so simple that it seems complicated, but it isn’t. Let’s take a break for a week and let some of this stuff soak in – maybe we’ll be in a mood to give it a try before long. Hope so! Till next time; thanks for reading!

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at, or leave questions or comments below.

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