by Jon Winters
Introduction to Container Gardening – Creating a Container Garden Plan
So you’ve finally stopped looking with longing at other people’s yard gardens, and decided to start container gardening on your balcony or patio. Congratulations! But before you get started, remember that it’s not enough just to buy a bag of soil and some annuals or vegetables, slap them into containers, and stick them outside. To garden successfully, you should set up a container garden plan in advance. Acquire your knowledge and materials ahead of time, and you’ll have a better chance of making a lush, prosperous garden in those balcony pots.
The first step in your container garden plan is to look at the spots where you plan to locate the containers. What are the conditions there? Does your balcony get full shade most of the day, with only a bit of sunshine in a four or five hour span? A container vegetable garden with plants needing full sun all day is pretty much ruled out. Or is there a mix of very sunny spots and those that get just few hours of sun each day? Choose your plants accordingly. Even a steadily blowing breeze will affect your choice of plants and garden planter. Those plants that really need moisture and dry out quickly in normal circumstances will probably not survive the extra air movement causing even more water to evaporate from the soil. Don’t choose your plants and then try to squeeze them into less than ideal conditions. Look at the conditions first, and discover which plants best fit them.
Consult your store or garden center as you create your container garden plan, and get an idea of what plants will even be available there. If you know what plants they’re bringing in, you can do advance research about the growing conditions they need. It’s true that pots give you an advantage, in that you can move plants around and test if they’ll grow better in one spot than another. But if you buy container gardening annuals that normally grow in certain conditions, yet your patio never experiences those conditions, you can hardly expect the plants to succeed.
The next step in your container garden plan is to learn what type of soil each plant needs. You can put several different plants in one container, but be sure they complement each other. For example, putting potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers in the same pot will drain the soil of nutrients very quickly. All of those plants are in the nightshade family, and need similar nutritional elements. The growing environment will succeed and soil replenishment will occur if one plant discards what the other needs, or if they are drawing different nutritional compounds from the soil. Take a look at fertilizers as well, and learn the daily or weekly needs of each plant.
Even your choice of garden planter is important. For example, carrots need a pot deep enough to accommodate the fully grown plant with space to spare, and wide enough to grow several carrot plants. Potatoes and garlic need different sized pots. Containers of herbs need other sizes. All of these factors need to be taken into account when creating your container garden plan.
You can concentrate solely on container gardening annuals, or you might major on vegetables and herbs. But the look and atmosphere of your garden will benefit from a mixture of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. A tomato plant in the corner might look nice with some pots of white petunias in front and a stand of basil and rosemary containers beside it. Your container garden plan extends to the look and feel of your garden almost as much as creating the right growing conditions. Even if your emphasis is vegetables, a few pots of flowers will brighten things. And don’t worry about using up all your herbs; you can cut and dry sprigs as summer goes on, and use them in the winter.
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