Tips for planting a successful container garden

Container garden 2 WPlanting a garden in pots and other containers can be the easy way to go for anyone from the novice to experienced gardener.

Desiree Williams, a personal chef and caterer from Severna Park, wanted to grow fresh herbs and vegetables for cooking, but when she tried planting a large organic garden it was more time consuming and less successful than she had hoped.

So she recently started container gardening — growing everything in pots and planters. It doesn't require as much maintenance, and she can keep the pots on her deck right outside the kitchen.

“I find it’s a really easy way to care for things. It’s easier to control and it’s less expensive,” Williams says. “For someone who doesn’t have a green thumb, it’s a really great way ... to start.”

Kerry Kelley, a master gardener with Bay Ridge Nursery and Landscaping in Annapolis, agrees.

“Even those with only a balcony can have a terrific garden, whether they love flowers, vegetables or both,” she says.

Containers can be placed in convenient locations such as in an herb garden just outside the kitchen or planters raised to a height that allows easy access and eliminates bending.

Supplies to buy

It doesn't take much to start a container garden. Here is what you need:

  • Containers – A metal bucket, ceramic pot, even an old shoe or purse will work. Little space is needed, Kelley says, but take into account the size of a mature plant before selecting a container and planting. “Most tomatoes and peppers should have a minimum of 1 cubic foot of soil or a 5-gallon bucket,” Kelley says. Make sure the container drains well or water will build up and plants will drown.

  • Weed block – Weed-block fabric, sphagnum moss, coco moss or a trash bag with holes for drainage will help keep weeds from sprouting in your container.

  • Plants – Good plants for pots include bush varieties of vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini; loose lettuces, Swiss chard and strawberries; annuals and perennials; and ornamental grass, Kelley says.

Tips for green growers

Follow these guidelines to make sure your container garden thrives:

  • Research the care required for each particular plant. Find out when to plant, where (full sun, partial sun, etc.), and how much water each plant needs.

  • Be sure plants in the same containers grow under similar circumstances, Kelley advises. “Don’t try portulaca that wants full sun and a drier soil with impatiens that require moist soil and shade,” she says.

  • Water properly. Terra cotta and coco moss liners dry out more quickly than plastic or glazed ceramic containers, Kelley says. And later in the season, as roots fill a container, more frequent watering is needed.

  • Fertilize to ensure healthy plants — especially annuals, Kelley says. Pick a time every week to fertilize or use a slow-release fertilizer that lasts the whole season. “Every time you water, you are leaching nutrients from the mix, and annuals really need to be fertilized to look their best,” Kelley says.

Kid-friendly crop

Some of Williams’s fondest memories involve gardening with her four kids. And container gardening is easier for kids to help with.

“You can give a little watering can to a toddler,” Williams says. “The kids love how the plants smell and look and grow. It’s a really teachable moment.”

Kelley suggests growing plants in a self-water system, such as Earthbox, which comes with everything needed except the plant — including the container, fertilizer and weed fabric.

“The water goes in a tube and excess water is drained out, so there’s no way to mess that up,” Kelley says. “Kids can easily care for one of those systems.”

Some kid-friendly plants include basil and oregano — which can be used in pizza and pasta — as well as loose-leaf lettuces for salads. Strawberries can grow in hanging baskets.

Kids can also help by making garden markers for plants from Popsicle sticks or jar lids.

“I see many kids at the garden center that are very involved in helping their parents pick out the plants for their containers,” Kelley says. “Sometimes they do a 'mommy and me' set — the mom picks out plants for a larger container and the child picks their own, with a little assistance to ensure success, for a smaller container.”

By Kristy MacKaben

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