Advantages of Growing in Containers
When I was a kid, and everyone was wearing neon pants and sporting mullets, gardening seemed a simpler affair. As I biked down the street every front yard sported the same geraniums, marigolds, and Lobelia as every other yard, and containers were reserved for herbs and the odd tomato.
How times have changed! Now when it comes to annuals, and increasingly vegetables, it’s all about container gardening. People have moved their annuals into back yard containers, and it’s rare to find “bedding plants” in front yard beds anymore.
Container gardening has become the new gardening reality, but it’s hard to find out what its advantages and disadvantages versus planting in beds actually are. Here’s the dirt”¦
Space and Creativity
Container gardening has allowed a new kind of gardener, those living in urban centers, to flourish. It’s gardening without a yard, where any balcony or patio with a smidgen of sunlight will do.
People come into the greenhouse daily with stories of how they grow an impressive amount of food without any yard to speak of. It’s amazing what can happen when you mix an innovative gardener, a few creative ideas and modest sized balcony.
You can also be much more inventive in your design. When it comes to how to design and display a grouping of containers, the sky is the limit.
If you’re new at designing containers, or if you usually buy pre-made ones, I encourage you to leave at least one container open when you head into the garden center. Design it in your head from the plants arrayed before you and have some fun with it. Remember it’s only for 1 year!
The majority of annuals we enjoy, and even many of the vegetables, originally come from tropical climates. Their exotic appeal and uncanny ability to turn a patio into a jungle oasis is what makes them so popular.
These plants have never seen snow or frost (because if they had it would have been the last thing they saw). Their roots are used to a consistent, warm temperature. If you plant these lush dandies into our frigid mid-May soil it will stunt their growth or even kill them.
In a container, the soil is always warm. As long as it stays above freezing you can typically transplant and your tropical annuals will think they’re right at home.
On the other side of that, cool weather loving plants can easily get overheated in containers. Porous containers, like terra cotta, aren’t popular in Alberta partially because they dry out and get too hot. If your container plants like it cool, like pansies or lettuce, water the pot as well as the soil.
Watering and Weeds
The biggest disadvantage of container gardening is that they need to be watered more often. While better drainage helps plants’ root systems grow healthier, it means more work for you, especially during late summer heat waves.
There are a few ways around this. The first is to get a self-watering container, which have a reservoir of water in the bottom for the roots to drink from. These are available in garden centers or you can make one yourself (consult Google).
You can also slow down our scorching sun by adding a layer of mulch on the soil. Besides adding visual appeal, 2-3 inches of organic mulch, like cedar or even straw, will reduce evaporation dramatically and keep moisture on the root system longer.
Avoid using rock mulches as they heat up and actually dry the soil faster. If you’ve planted edibles, choose a natural much without chemicals.