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COLUMN: Container gardening offers uncontained possibilities
Gardening is for everyone! If you don’t have a huge backyard to grow vegetables or a big area to plant a flower bed never fear. There is always a way to garden in limited space.
Container gardening has many advantages. People with physical limitations may appreciate the ability to garden without bending over or kneeling. Container gardens can also bring the garden closer to one’s home or outdoor living area, such as along a sidewalk that is accessible from a wheelchair. Container gardens can place culinary herbs close to the kitchen to snip and used in cooking. Container gardens on patios or decks give people with limited outdoor space, such as apartment dwellers, the opportunity to enjoy plants.
Potting mixes that are used in containers are lightweight and easy to work. Small containers or those with wheels can be moved with the seasons to place the plants in favorable growing environments. When not in use, containers can be stored out in the garage or basement.
Kansas’s weather can make container gardening a challenge. Extreme summer heat coupled with high winds can quickly dry the roots of container plants. This can be minimized by carefully selecting plants, growing media, site and watering methods.
Heavy, poorly drained soils are a key contributor to poor plant growth. A well-aerated, well-drained, lightweight soil is best for container gardening. The soil must support the plants and provide water, nutrients and space for the plants to grow.
Garden soil is not recommended for containers because the watering required by causes garden soil to compact, leading to poor aeration and drainage. Soilless mixes are carried by many garden centers and are ideal. These mixes are less likely to contain weed seeds or disease organisms than garden soil. Ideally, soilless growing media should be replaced every year.
Containers can hold one to many different types of plants. When using more than one plant species in a container, arrange them to take advantage of their forms, colors, textures, heights, and bloom times. Containers with multiple species are arranged with a vertical plant, such as an ornamental grass, vine on a trellis or spike in the middle to provide height to the arrangement; plants with color such as geranium or lantana around the vertical element to attract attention; and plants with trailing habit such as ivy or ornamental sweet potato to spill over the rim.
Perennials and annuals are often a good combination as the perennial plants can be purchased in large sizes to make an immediate impact while the annual plants are developing. Herbaceous and woody perennial plants used in containers can be saved and planted in the garden in the fall. Choose plants that are adapted (sun, shade, wind, reflected heat, and other site conditions) and meet the functional and aesthetic requirements of the existing landscape. Select plants with similar growing requirements if they are placed in the same container.
Container grown plants must be watered and fertilized more frequently than other garden plants because of their restricted root system. Plants should be fertilized according recommended label rates, every two to three weeks using a water-soluble fertilizer.
Potting soils may contain small amounts of fertilizer. These mixes will not need fertilizer for the first six to eight weeks.
Scott Eckert is Harvey County Extension agent, horticulture.