Small yard? No yard? You may think this limits your ability to grow your own fresh flowers and vegetables this growing season, but don’t give up on gardening just yet. Containers offer versatile and portable gardens, suitable to the smallest of yards or porches. Any container with a drainage hole in the bottom will suit, so get creative. Old boots, toilet bowls, pots and pans, old chairs, wagons, or wheel barrows would all make eclectic containers. Once you’ve found your container it’s easy to get your garden ready. Fill the bottom of the container with gravel or, depending on the size of your container and how portable it needs to be, you can use packing peanuts for drainage which will keep the container lighter. Frost proof containers are available at reputable garden shops (the Artful Gardener has a wonderful selection) and offer a wonderful assortment of sizes, shapes & colors that can be left outdoors all year, adding a splash of color to the winterscape of your porch, garden or yard. In containers it’s good to use a growing medium that drains much more quickly than garden soil, helping to ensure the longevity of your plants. Moisture control soils are a nice alternative if you aren’t a timely waterer.
Add the potting mix to the container until it is about 3/4 full. If you use a dry, peat-moss-based mix, you should first moisten it by slowly adding water until it is moist but not soggy. Next, set the plants on the mix one by one, spacing them much more closely than you would when planting them in the ground. Put the tallest plants in the center of the container. Surround them with the shorter, mounding plants, positioning the trailing plants along the edge. When you are pleased with your arrangement, add potting mix to bring the level within an inch or so of the container’s rim and pack lightly but firmly. Then water thoroughly.
Plants in containers need special care. They dry out more quickly than plants in the ground; during the summer you may have to water them daily. Because they need frequent watering, nutrients soon wash out the bottom of the pot. To keep annuals growing and flowering, water with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every other week in the summer. Other plants—bulbs, perennials, and shrubs—need less fertilizer; a half-strength solution applied once a month through August is enough. A good compost mix with organic material and minerals can revitalize last year’s potting soil and slowly release nutrients throughout the season. To keep containers looking their best they will need regular grooming. Remove spent flowers regularly and prune vigorous growers to keep them in check and looking good.
In our climate where winter temperatures drop well below freezing, containers should generally be dismantled in fall. Bring tender plants indoors or toss them on the compost heap; plant hardy bulbs, perennials, and shrubs in the ground. Most containers, if not frost proof, should be emptied of potting mix and stored under cover or turned upside down and protected; usually only plastic and fiberglass pots can be left out over winter without cracking but it’s not guaranteed. Happy planting!