Written by - Kaitlynn from MIgardener
A handful of easy tricks can transform your container garden into a lush and beautiful oasis. For first time gardeners, container gardening on your patio or apartment is one of the best ways to try your hand at gardening. These easy tips will give you the upper hand for success on the first try.
Let's get started
1. Build Your Compost (Or Source the Good Stuff)
The first step to any garden is good soil. If you have the space to start a compost pile, now is the time to begin. Collect old food scraps (yes, even through winter) for nutrient-rich soil in the spring. Mineralization (decomposing of nutrients) will not happen naturally in a container garden as it would in the ground, so it's important to start with a rich base. If you do not have access to compost of your own, there are many options when it comes to store-bought, bagged compost. If you go with a bagged compost option, our first recommendation is to buy it directly from a garden center or farmer. The last choice is any high-quality organic compost mix. Whenever someone decides to start a garden, any compost choice is better than not trying to garden at all! Go with what makes you happiest. There are a few reasons compost makes the perfect growing medium. Compost stays loose to allow for good root growth, it retains moisture well, which keeps containers from drying out, and it houses beneficial microbes and fungi that are necessary for healthy plant growth.
2. I Like Big Pots And I Cannot Lie
Garden veggies need space! Even when planting small varieties, large pots are needed to provide ample space in a container garden. If the container's size is too small, the roots will become crowded and root-bound. Becoming root bound will stress any plant and keep it from reaching its full harvest potential. A 1-gallon pot is the minimum perfect size for most varieties, especially herbs, lettuce, and anything else that doesn't require a lot of soil. For larger plants like tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants, a 3-gallon pot or larger will be the best option. A vegetable garden will require more space than your average house plant because of it's quick growing season. Avoid your pots from becoming root-bound at all costs by providing ample space.
3. Light Colored Plastic Pots
No matter how big your pot, it will contain less soil than a regular garden bed. One of the issues container gardeners come up against is the danger of something called baked roots. "Baked roots" is a fancy phrase for what happens when the sun reflects on your pots (no matter their material, though it's less common in plastic), and the heat pulls all the moisture from the roots. Picking lightly colored pots is a simple way to avoid this problem! Lighter pots will reflect the sunshine and heat, whereas dark pots will absorb it into the soil. Using plastic pots instead of clay pots can help decrease this problem as well. Clay is more porous than plastic, which causes water to leak out of the pots at a rapid pace. Plastic avoids leakage and won't get as hot in the sun. Plastic pots will normally last longer as well. If you are aiming to go for a plastic-free garden, make sure your pots are placed in a location with a good amount of shade to avoid baking your plants' roots.
4. Cute and Smallish Plants
It is possible to grow large varieties in a container garden, but it does require a lot of work! Our recommendation, especially for beginners, is to start with smaller plants. Small plants take up less space in the garden and require less energy to maintain. If you are on a balcony, fire escape, patio, or porch, space is limited. There are smaller varieties of fruits and vegetables that are normally known for being large. Tiny Tim Tomatoes are a perfect example of this. Types of plants that will always do well in containers are lettuce, radishes, herbs, spinach, bush beans, and other smaller varieties. To learn more about what varieties are best in a container garden, click here.
5. Diversity as Pest Control
Plant two different plants next to each other to achieve natural pest control. This can be accomplished by planting either in the same pot or in separate pots that sit close together in a space. This pest control tactic is called interplanting and takes its philosophy from a permaculture method. Not only will this method save space in the garden, but it will also maximize the overall yield. The effect of interplanting affects the entire garden positively. Mixing different scents, essential oils, and plant pheromones all contribute to pest control because these scents will often confuse tiny predators from finding their prey. For example, planting marigolds near tomatoes or spinach near carrots will mask each other's scents for any pest that might be interested. To learn more about this method, click here.
6. Water Often
In standard garden beds, moisture is retained for twice as long than it would be in a plastic or clay pot. The majority of varieties will require even soil moisture during the growing season, so remember to be attentive to your plants and water them often. It's easy to forget this simple step, so we recommend having a cup outside near your plants as a reminder to give them a glass or two around the base each day. The plants will benefit from water since water allows the roots to grow, absorb nutrients, and fill leaves with water.
7. Hand Pollinate
In a traditional wide open garden, insects and bugs will come to pollinate flowers; however, if you only have one tomato plant on your balcony or a single cucumber plant, the bugs won't naturally come around as much. Bees will prefer large groupings of flowers, so pollination using your hands will lead to higher yields. For the best methods for how to hand pollinate your plants, click here. One of the simplest methods is to use a q-tip to transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers. This will ensure you amazing results when the harvest begins.
8. Plant High Yeilding Crops
Gardening can be an intimidating thing for beginners. Normally, the recommended varieties for beginners are the ones that lead to the most satisfying results. This means everything easy to grow, which gives the heaviest yields possible. In a container garden, planting varieties that grow a lot of food is also the best use of your space. Pole beans, peas, zucchini, greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all the most productive options.
Plants in small spaces use up water and nutrients very quickly. For this reason, fertilizing your container garden is vital. Using a multipurpose fertilizer like Trifecta+ is the best option for adding essential soil nutrients that otherwise might not be present. Adding fertilizer will prevent nutrient deficiency in your plants and will extend the harvest for any variety. With Trifecta, this process will require a one-time application, whereas others might need more attention.
10. Plant What You Love
Think about the foods that you love to eat. Planting what you love will allow even the smallest harvests to taste the best. When something is homegrown, it has so many flavors, and the freshness can't be beaten. So grow what you love, and even the smallest harvest will be huge.
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