Weeding and maintaining the paths, borders and beds of a large garden requires a great deal of time and energy. Too often the hurly burly of a hectic daily life leaves little time for flexing one’s green thumb. Enter container gardens, a simple solution for the space-challenged and time-deprived who want to grow their own herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, and save some cash in the process.
What you'll need: a few containers that vary in size, depending on what is to be grown; seeds; a bit of soil; sunshine, water and patience. All the necessary elements can be purchased inexpensively at an online retailer or at a local garden supply store. Expect to pay around $3 per seed packet from an online retailer like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and $10 to $20 for a cubic foot of specially mixed container soil. Budget gardeners can forgo costly terra cotta or clay pots (which can cost $10 to $70 or more) and use just about any kind of common household container including coffee cans, garbage pails, paint buckets or even one of those hard-plastic kiddie pools. If you use a homemade container, holes will need to be poked in the bottom to facilitate proper drainage.
Herbs are by far the simplest plants to grow in containers and require the least amount of time and space. Herbs can even be grown on an interior windowsill as long as the plants receive four to eight hours of strong sunlight every day. Herbs can be grown separately in small containers with a four to 10 inch diameter or grouped together into a larger, space saving container such as a gallon milk jug with the top lopped off.
Start with some of the most commonly used and easily grown kitchen herbs like sage, rosemary, basil, chives and parsley. Herbs grow at different rates, but if planted in the spring, there should be fresh herbs to harvest all summer and even into the fall. Considering a small package of fresh rosemary at the market easily runs three bucks, having a small rosemary plant will save three dollars every time you twist off a sprig to add to the roasting pan.
Although citrus fruits, avocados and even pineapples can be grown in containers, leave those to the experts. Start with one of the fruit varieties better suited to a novice container grower such as blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes. Almost any variety of tomato will grow well in a container, but there are several varieties that do especially well including Tiny Tim, Toy Boy, Pixie and Patio which are smaller plants that still produce hearty sized tomatoes. Starting with a three-, five- or 10-gallon container, fill the bottom with loose rock (for drainage) and the remainder with a container soil mix.
Tomatoes like hot sun and moist dirt and as such should be watered every day and if possible located on a south facing exposure. Because they can grow quite tall, having a support stake on hand will keep the tomato plant from falling over. Plant early in the spring season, and in three to four months the plant will produce fresh tomatoes that can be sliced with mozzarella and fresh basil picked from the herb container.
Although they require a bit more floor space and larger containers (i.e. a six-foot diameter plastic kiddie pool), it is also possible to grow vining fruits such as cantaloupe and even watermelon.
With the ever-increasing cost of fresh and organically grown vegetables, container gardeners often choose to grow some of their own vegetables such as pole beans, leaf lettuce, radishes and garlic. Like with vining fruits, many vining vegetables such as squash, cucumbers and eggplant can be grown in containers. There again is where that old kiddie pool can come in handy. Most container grown vegetables, if planted in the spring, will be ready to harvest in 50 to 90 days, depending on the vegetable.
General care tips for all container plants:
- Add pebbles and/or corn cobs to the bottom of the pot to facilitate drainag.
- Water regularly, keep the soil weed-free and check regularly for diseases and insects (which can often be treated with an EPA-approved insecticide or fungicide)
- Add a fertilizer or nutrient solution to the soil
Different fertilizers and solutions will have different directions, so care should be taken to follow any instructions that come with each product.
With just a little practice, a novice container gardener will soon be an expert grower with the added benefit of saving money by avoiding the high market prices for herbs, fruits and vegetables.
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