We’ve reached the final post in Backyard Owl’s Adventures in Gardening – Container Gardening series. We’ve talked about the advantages of container gardening, and which plants are easy to grow in containers. Now, it’s time to review some tips for success – the things I’ve learned through my planting experiences that I think will set you up best for a verdant and productive balcony/container garden. Coaxing life out little seeds and seedlings isn’t always the most straightforward process; luckily Mother Nature does a lot to help you and your plants out. Because really that’s what gardening is all about: figuring out the optimal conditions to make your plants thrive, helping out and correcting conditions when required, and letting Mother Nature do the rest.
Backyard Owl’s 9 Tips for Container Growing Success
Really, the key things to consider are light, drainage, soil quality, and water. Here are some tips that will help you figure out how best to set up your garden:
- purchase soil specific to container growing. Crops in containers need better drainage and lighter soil, so purchasing a specific “potting soil” mix is important.
- purchase an organic soil or vegan soil if you can. I think we can be kind to the environment, even when we are purchasing soil. And remember, you are going to be eating some of these plants, so makes sense to choose a healthy soil foundation, and you might not be keen to use soil that contains the manure of factory-farmed animals. You can look for soil that is OMRI-certified, which is an organic certification for soils. It’s a good first step.
- amend your soil with quality (animal-free) soil amendments, like sea kelp powder or worm castings compost/worm compost tea. You can purchase great amendments at many online or more unique garden stores, like Urban Harvest.
- become a container gardening guru by reading “Grow Great Grub” by Gayla Trail. This is, hands-down, the best book you can find to introduce you to the world of container gardening. If you go in armed with nothing else with this book, you will succeed.
- note which plants need full sun and which prefer shade/part-shade. The beauty of growing in containers is that you can move things about to suit plant needs and follow the sun.
- be prepared to create some animal-friendly/plant-protecting tools. For example, one year I fashioned “cloches” out of chicken-wire to deter interested squirrels. Squirels think that fresh soil means a potential nut-fest, and they will rip out plants with abandon, even once the little plant has begun growing. Covering the container with a little chicken-wire cage can help beans (or any plant you are growing from seed) get the growing start they need. Squirrels seem to lose interest once a certain stage of growth has been reached.
- make sure your containers have good drainage. Most plants like plenty of water, but they don’t like to sit in that water. Ensure that the containers you’ve purchased have holes in the bottom to allow the water to run through, or have a built-in plant saucer or other mechanism for letting water out. You can also put gravel or small rocks at the very bottom of your pot to help create a good drainage system.
- water regularly and deeply. Containers are often on the smaller side and dry out more quickly than regular soil. Be sure to water your plants daily, or perhaps even twice daily, and water deeply enough to encourage the roots to grow down into the container for a healthy and strong root system. If you water too lightly, the water doesn’t penetrate the soil and the roots have no incentive to grow down beyond the surface. I often water until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Then I know the soil has been fully saturated with water. And because I have good drainage and the right potting soil, I don’t worry that the water will just bog down the pot.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:
- Remember that plants just want to grow. Seriously. In my experience, even in poor conditions, plants just really want to spread their leaves and reach for the sun. You’ll be amazed how fast they grow, and how much beautiful green awesome-ness you can enjoy from what was previously a tiny little seed sitting in your hand.
© 2014 Backyard Owl