The Garden Patch: Get ready for winter gardening – in containers!

This is one of my favorite topics – because everyone can do it. You don’t have to have a lot of land – you don’t have to have ANY land … welcome to container gardening!

What’s a container! A bucket? A pan? Well, it’s just about anything that will hold soil and has drain holes. Sound simple? ‘Tiz!

101213-TGP-containersContainer gardens are an option for persons with limited garden space. Residents of apartments, condominiums, retirement homes or houses on small lots can still enjoy gardening. Containers are mobile, allowing a gardener to take plants along or move them for an instant splash of color. You can enjoy your plants more fully by growing them on patios, balconies and window boxes. Older gardeners can plant and tend container gardens when standard gardening becomes too strenuous. And what better way for children to observe the miracle of plant growth?

Container gardening involves special considerations – especially in Kansas. A container plant growing in an exposed location is under more stress and requires more frequent watering. The effects of hot, dry winds may be more severe than in conventional gardens. Large containers can be expensive and are difficult to move when filled with potting mix. But the advantages far outweigh these considerations.

Soil mixes

When ordinary soil is saturated with water, the air spaces are filled removing essential air from the roots. This is why a soil substitute, often called a potting mix, is recommended for container gardening. The mix may contain some soil – called soil mix – or no soil at all – a soilless mix. Additional ingredients such as peat moss, vermiculite and perlite allow rapid drainage but still hold sufficient water for plant growth.

You can purchase potting mix from nursery or garden centers under a variety of trade names: Jiffy Mix, Pro Mix, Metro Mix, Pro Soil and others. If you have only a few containers, you may want to take them to have them filled with the greenhouse potting mix for a fee.

You can also make your own potting mix. Remember, keep it simple! You don’t need a different mix for each type of plant. One common formula mixes 2 parts sandy loam soil, 1 part sphagnum peat moss and 1 part perlite or builder’s sand. There are many varieties of this basic recipe. Potting mixes should be free of disease organisms, insects or weeds.  Any mix containing soil has not been pasteurized to kill weeds or disease organisms, so use these mixes for established plants.

Consult references in your local library or Extension office for additional information on container gardening including recipes for making large quantities of potting mix from a variety of ingredients.

Containers

Containers come in a variety of styles and sizes. You can recycle old buckets, cans and similar containers. It is essential that the container have holes in the bottom for draining excess water.

Plastic

Plastic containers are available in various sizes, shapes and styles. Many plastics are breakable and may not hold up well over several seasons.

Clay

This old favorite is preferred by many gardeners for its earth tone color. Clay is porous and allows water loss from the sides of the container. Clay pots are breakable and may not hold up well if mobility is required.

Wood

Wood is a popular material for containers. Both redwood and cedar are relatively rot resistant and can be used without staining or painting. Exterior grade plywood and other types of wood can also be used. Avoid using wood treated with creosote, penta or other phenolic compounds because vapors can injure some plants. Always use copper treated lumber if preservative treated lumber is needed. Wooden containers are excellent for portability and can be purchased or built in various sizes and styles. Several container garden references offer plans for building attractive containers.

How big should the container be? That depends on the type of plants you plan to grow. There is a balance between the top growth and root systems of plants. Small plants can be grown in fairly small, shallow containers while larger plants need a larger container. Plants in locations such as a hot patio exposed to west or southwest winds, or in elevated locations may need a slightly larger container than those in more protected areas.

Most small vegetables will grow in containers ranging from 5-inch pots to gallon size.  Larger vegetables, such as dwarf tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will require 1- to 3-gallon containers. Full size tomatoes require at least a 3-gallon container.

Fertilizer

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly causing fertilizer to be washed out of the containers as you water you will need to replace lost fertilizer. Lighter mixes will require more frequent fertilizing than heavier mixes containing soil. Remember, you are growing a plant with a small constricted root system so regular fertilizing and watering are important.

Many gardeners prefer to apply a dilute fertilizer solution at every other watering. Several water soluble fertilizers including Rapid Grow, Hyponex and Miracle Grow are available at garden centers. If you fertilize at every other watering, use only one-fourth the recommended rate unless the instructions state otherwise for continuous feeding.

Controlled release or time release fertilizers are also widely available. These are pellets designed to release fertilizer gradually over a long period of time. Use these according to label directions.

OK! Next week we talk about watering – and that’s important! Start getting ready for colder weather and don’t miss a beat of our gardening reports. Remember, container gardening is excellent for wintertime (indoors) and helps fight those wintertime blues! Till next week!


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 [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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