The Container Gardening Ambassadors (the Fresh Food Home Guards)

All we need is your free moral support to make this world better

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Become a member of our container gardening group by clicking the ‘JOIN’ button at  

(today almost 43.000 members).

Here are some of your trumps

Bottle towers with vegetables and herbs - Photo WVC P 1070455 - Video
Bottle towers with vegetables and herbs – Photo WVC P 1070455 – Video

1. If we show how to build a bottle tower <> to all the schoolchildren of this world and teach them how to grow some vegetables and herbs at school, they will enjoy building more towers for their family at home.

Riser with vegetables and herbs growing in recycled bottles - Photo Jojo ROM (The Philippines)  56269_1483085875405_1181604134_31159685_1301366_o.jpg
Riser with vegetables and herbs growing in recycled bottles – Photo Jojo ROM (The Philippines) 56269_1483085875405_1181604134_31159685_1301366_o.jpg

2. If we alleviate child malnutrition in our countries by teaching them container gardening at school, recycling all discarded containers in school gardens, e.g. on risers (see


and <>),

there will be sufficient food for decent daily meals and a cleaner environment.

And soon there will be fresh food galore everywhere.

Dwarf orange fruit trees grown in pots - Photo Container Growing - .jpg
Dwarf orange fruit trees grown in pots – Photo Container Growing – .jpg

3. If we convince all young mothers to plant only one fruit tree for every newborn baby and if we plant a fruit tree for every dear family member passing away, we will soon have orchards protecting us against global warming and climate change.

Barrels  cab easily be transformed in vertical gardens with a lot of fresh food - Photo Grow Food, Not Lawns - 542232_449799711742313_474788682_n.jpg
Barrels can easily be transformed in vertical gardens with a lot of fresh food – Photo Grow Food, Not Lawns – 542232_449799711742313_474788682_n.jpg

4. If we pass this message to the world leaders and publish all our photos to show them our green container gardens, it will be a giant convincing step towards a global food revolution.

And soon there will be less hunger because container gardening means solving these major problems at the lowest cost.  People in developing countries have been inventive to grow fresh food in a panoply of containers (pots, buckets, bags, sacks, barrels, …).  There is a lot of indigenous knowledge about best practices and success stories in food production. It is our moral duty to follow their examples and invest in large-scale application of their methods and techniques.  International organizations should reach hands with NGOs to ban hunger and malnutrition without any delay.  They should start in all the schools.

Let us put an important step towards a better future today:



Bright colors in winter containers

 Photo credit: 3 am growers

Brighten the Winter Landscape with Container Gardens


But sometimes landscapers need a pop of color to spice up their winter gardens. Tide yourself over during the season of landscape maintenance with bright container gardens for the home and garden.

Plant Trees in Container Gardens

Most trees planted in container gardens will eventually need repotting, but many species thrive until they outgrow their containers. Create focal points on patios, in courtyards, and even in the house by planting saplings in large pots. Make sure your chosen container is large enough that the tree can grow and wide enough to insulate the roots. Always make sure your container provides adequate drainage before planting your tree. Good plants for container gardening include:

  • Hollies
  • Evergreens
  • Boxwood
  • Dwarf camillas

Container Gardening with Flowers and Herbs

Read the full article: 3 am growers


Complete guide to growing small trees for the garden (Google / Telegraph)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

Complete guide to growing small trees for the garden

Everything you need to know about choosing and growing the right tree for your garden

By Tony Russell for Gardeners’ World Magazine

This time of year is prime tree-planting season. We all want an instant sense of scale and maturity in our gardens – but trees supposedly take ages to grow, so you may be tempted to buy in large sizes.

Research has shown, however, that trees planted when small (up to 2½ft) establish faster and more effectively than larger ones and may even overtake a larger (and more expensive) specimen planted at the same time.

Small trees have a larger root-to-foliage ratio, which means evaporation and therefore moisture needs are lower, and their ability to produce new roots is greater. They also suffer less root check immediately after planting and are less susceptible to stress in times of drought.

Buying a tree

Don’t get confused over the various names garden centres and suppliers give to different tree sizes. A whip is generally a small tree up to 3ft tall, normally produced from seed or cuttings. A maiden is a similar size, normally produced from grafting or budding. Fruit trees are often referred to as maidens. A half-standard tree has a single clear stem up to 5ft tall, topped with a head of branches, and a standard has up to 6ft 6in of clear stem, plus a head of branches.

Most garden centres sell trees that have been grown in a pot and potted on to allow for root growth. These are known as container-grown trees and can be planted at almost any time of year except when the soil is waterlogged or frozen, or during prolonged drought.

Container-grown trees tend to be more expensive than rootballed or containerised trees, which are grown in nursery beds, lifted in winter then wrapped in netting or similar material, or placed in a container for sale. Rootballed trees should be planted between late November and mid-February. Cheapest of all are bare-root trees, which are normally supplied by nurseries during the dormant season, having been grown in open ground. These should be planted as soon as possible after purchase.

How to establish a tree

After all the effort of choosing, buying and planting your tree, you’ll need to make sure it has the best chance of survival by keeping it well watered, at least through its first growing season and during very dry weather for two or three years after. A mulch of well-rotted garden compost or composted bark will retain moisture in the soil and discourage weeds. If your tree is planted in grass, it’s essential to maintain a circle of bare soil around the base of the trunk, at least 18in across.

New trees will establish quicker without competition from grass and weeds. If your tree is grafted on to a rootstock, you may find that it sends up vigorous shoots, or suckers, from beneath the graft union. Pull these off or cut them back as close to the main trunk as possible with secateurs. One final point to consider when planting or dealing with trees on your property: as the landowner you have a responsibility to maintain those trees in a safe condition, which includes regular inspections for any signs that they are unsafe. With young or small trees, the level of damage or injury that may occur if the tree, or parts of it, were to fall is limited, but a responsible attitude will prolong your tree’s life, give you peace of mind and may reward you with lower insurance.

Using tree ties

Don’t risk damaging a newly planted tree by fixing it to the stake wrongly. It is essential to use a flexible tree tie with a rubberised spacer. This will ensure the bark doesn’t get worn away and that the tree’s growth isn’t restricted as the trunk expands. Attach the tree tie to the stake, about ½in from the top, using a galvanised nail. Thread the strap through the spacer buffer, around the stem of the tree, back through the rubber spacer and around the back of the stake to finish up through the buckle. Fasten the tie securely, then knock a second nail through the end of the strap so it doesn’t slip undone. Check regularly to ensure the tie isn’t chafing the bark, and loosen it to allow the stem to expand.

Do I need a stake?

Small, single-stemmed trees, such as whips up to 3ft tall, rarely require staking, except on exposed sites. In fact it’s best not to stake, as the flexing of a tree’s stem helps encourage thickening of the trunk, making it better able to support the weight of the upper branches.

Even with half-standard and standard specimens, stakes shouldn’t extend above one-third of the tree’s total height. For most well-grown specimens a short stake that anchors the base of the trunk is ideal. This holds the rootball firmly in the ground while new roots grow out into the surrounding soil, but still allows the full height of the main stem to flex. For large standard containerised trees, use a stake angled at 45 degrees to the trunk and attached about one-third up its height. By angling the stake, you avoid driving it vertically down through the rootball, so no damage is caused.

Will trees grow in pots?

Some trees are perfectly happy in containers, which is very handy if you’re short on space. It also allows you to grow trees that are not fully hardy, such as a citrus, as you can move the pot inside over winter. You can also grow trees that are unsuited to your garden soil. In theory, most trees can be grown in containers, at least for a limited period of time. However, reality dictates that slow-growing, dwarf or compact specimens, such as varieties of Japanese maple, are the most suitable. Trees in containers do require more attention than those in open ground. You’ll need to water them regularly, as compost dries out quickly and the roots can’t grow out in search of water. Similarly, you’ll need to feed them too


How to Select Fruit and Nut Trees (Mother Earth

Read at :

How to Select Fruit and Nut Trees

Whether you purchase trees and shrubs from a local nursery or from a mail-order company, this expert advice will help ensure that your plants are healthy and happy in their new home.

The following is an excerpt from Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich, Ph.D. (Storey, 2009). Reich is an author, lecturer and consultant whose books also include The Pruning Book, Weedless Gardening and Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. Reich grows a broad assortment of fruit plants in his own garden, which has been featured in numerous publications. Whether you purchase trees and shrubs from a local nursery or from a mail-order company, this expert advice will help ensure that your plants are healthy and happy in their new home.

All your efforts to give your plant the best possible care are for naught if you don’t start out with the best possible plant. The best way to get such a plant is to purchase it from a reputable nursery. Look for a plant whose tops are no more than three times the size of the roots, and whose roots look healthy, plump and neither congested nor sparse. The stems should be plump, and without dark, sunken areas or rot that could indicate disease.

Nursery plants can come potted, bare root or, less commonly, balled-and-burlapped. My preference is for either of the first two. Such plants can be shipped — and so are available in the widest selection — and root damage is less likely to occur between the nursery and your yard. Balled-and-burlapped plants are heavy and any fracturing of the soil also tears some roots. The size at which a plant can be taken out of the soil bare root and then replanted successfully is obviously limited, usually to 4 or 5 feet in height, but that’s a very reasonable size for planting. Watch out for potted plants that have spent so long in their containers that their roots do nothing more than grow in circles — something that continues after the plant is put in the ground, resulting in self-strangulation. Slide a potted plant out of its pot and examine the roots if possible.

Restrain yourself from always seeking out the largest possible plant in an effort to get the quickest landscape effect and harvest. Larger plants, if bare root or balled-and-burlapped, lose proportionally more roots in transplanting than do smaller plants, so suffer greater shock and need more care — mostly watering — for longer. Even a large, potted plant takes longer before enough roots explore surrounding soil to make the plant self-sufficient. Recent research has demonstrated that initially smaller plants, because they suffer less transplant shock and establish more quickly, often overtake their initially larger counterparts after a few years.


Trees from a container in the yard (Dave’s Garden)

Read at : Dave’s Garden Weekly Newsletter

How to Plant a Tree: Getting It Out of the Nursery Pot and Into Your Yard

By Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologist)
June 12, 2008

You just bought a beautiful tree in a pot, and you have the perfect spot for it in your yard. What’s the best way to plant it? This step by step photo tutorial answers some common questions about planting trees.

You may have heard, “Dig a $100 hole for a $10 tree,” and it’s good advice. Extra time spent doing a good job of planting your new tree will pay off as the tree settles in and starts to grow strongly in its new home.

When should you plant? Bare root trees are best planted in early spring, or when they are dormant. Potted trees, on the other hand, can be planted any time you can dig a hole in the ground. It’s best not to dig when the ground is very wet, especially if you have heavy clay soil that will compact to form a watertight tomb around the rootball. If the ground is frozen or very dry, it may be so hard that you can barely make a dent in the surface, let alone a hole. Under any other conditions, you are good to go! Continue reading Trees from a container in the yard (Dave’s Garden)

Japanese Maples for Containers (Dave’s Garden)

Read at : Dave’s Garden Weekly Newsletter

Japanese Maples for Containers

by Todd Boland
Research Horticulturist
Memorial University Botanical Garden
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John’s, NL, Canada
A1C 5S7

Do you love Japanese maples but don’t have the space? Why not try growing them in containers! There are many dwarf to semi-dwarf cultivars that lend themselves beautifully to growing in pots. Nothing looks more elegant than a potted Japanese maple in a secluded courtyard or enclosed deck or just about anywhere! Read on to learn how to grow them and which selection work best.

It seems that these days gardens, as a whole, are becoming smaller. However, as gardeners, we want to grow as much diversity as possible. The way around this is by growing in containers. This is fine for annuals but becomes more challenging if you want to grow woody material. Not all trees and shrubs will take to containers. However, there is one very choice group of woody plants that are ideal; Japanese Maples. If I only had room for one woody plant in a pot, it would be a Japanese maple (actually I have room for 5 so far, but will get more!). It is difficult to find a more elegant plant, especially among the weeping and dwarf varieties. Essentially, any Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) can be grown in a container, however, some will outgrow their pots more quickly than others. Large standard cultivars like ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Osakazuki’, ‘Oshio-beni’ and ‘Sango-kaku’ might only last a few years before they will need moving into the open garden. However there are lots of dwarf and semi-dwarf cultivars (1 to 3 m mature heights) that lend themselves to long-term cultivation in pots. It helps tremendously that these maples have significantly slower growth rates when growing in pots and naturally have smaller root systems than many plants their size. Continue reading Japanese Maples for Containers (Dave’s Garden)

A tree for warm climate : Common Jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus) – (Dave’s garden)

Read at : Dave’s garden Weekly Newsletter

Dave’s Garden <>

Common Jujube : Ziziphus zizyphus

For many people, the common name jujube conjures up images of a fruit-flavored gummy candy with a dense, stiff texture. It is also one of the common names for Ziziphus zizyphus, a deciduous fruit tree that is relatively easy to grow in warm climates. The species is probably native to Syria and/or North Africa, but thousands of years ago, it was exported to China where it has been in cultivation ever since. It was introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s at Beaufort, North Carolina and is hardy to at least zone 6. The smooth-green fruit darkens as it matures, first to to red then purplish-black and wrinkled. The end result is a sweet, dried, wrinkled fruit; hence the common name Chinese date.

» Read more about this plant

Back from my mission in Algeria

Dear visitors of my blogs,

It took me a while to tackle all the classical problems of a longer absence : correspondence, reports to write, reply to emails, etc. But now I am back at my blogs and hope to catch up as soon as possible.

For now, let me tell you something about the success of our UNICEF project in Algeria “Construction of family gardens and school gardens in the refugees’ camps of Tindouf (S.W. Algeria – Sahara desert)“.

The Sahrawi people are extremely motivated to get their small gardens ready as soon as possible. From 208 gardens in 2006, the number of gardens grew to more than 1200. These gardens are treated with our soil conditioner TerraCottem (<>) to stock a maximum of saline irrigation water in the upper 20-30 cm of sandy soil. Seeds of vegetables are provided by UNICEF ALGERIA. Young trees are offered by the Forestry Services of Tindouf. Local schools are also participating in the project. Follow-up is assured by a Technical Committee and several agronomists.

In August 2007, I launched an action of seed collection in Belgium. With the help of the media (newspapers, radio, television), I invited my compatriots to send me the seeds of tropical fruits, which are normally thrown in the garbage bin (melon, watermelon, pumpkin, papaya, avocado, sweet pepper etc.). There was a massive and remarkably positive reaction of the Belgians ! For the first time, someone is not asking money for development cooperation, but only garbage seeds.

I received already more than 100 kg of seeds, half of which were already taken to the refugee camps on my last trip, or send by the Algerian Embassy for use in Algerian school gardens (another nice UNICEF project, called : “Schools, Friends of the children”).

It is really fantastic to see, for the first time in 30 years in these camps of the Sahrawis, vegetables growing in small desert gardens. What a splendid contribution to human health in those extremely difficult conditions ! This is the best way to provide continuously fresh food and fruits with vitamins and mineral elements, in particular for the children.

You look for success stories ? This is one of the best ! I will soon show you some more pictures.

Team with UNICEF seeds   Family garden Layoun  Family garden Layoun 2  watermelons in Dahla

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)

Unicef team and Sahrawis engineers carrying seeds from UNICEF / Some of the family gardens at the end of October 2007.

Plastic bottles and bags: precious jewels for container gardening (Willem)

On September 12th, 2007 Riziki SHEMDOE sent the following message :

“I have been reading on the container gardening experiments that you have been doing. This has encouraged me to put up a proposal on introducing this technology to the rural semiarid areas of Tanzania where normally crop production is very poor due to drought and poor soil fertility. I am requesting to know whether there are some best practices from the third world countries that you have come across regarding the use of this technology in improving rural food security and poverty alleviation? I will be grateful if you share with me some of the best practices so that I may use them to strengthen my proposal. I look forward to reading from you.
Kindest regards,
Riziki. “

Riziki Silas Shemdoe (MSc)
Institute of Human Settlements Studies,
University College of Lands and Architectural Studies
P.O.Box 35124 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Here is my reply :

The easiest and most practical way for people in developing countries to practice container gardening is to collect a large number of plastic (PET) bottles and plastic shopping bags. It’s clean and cheap. Moreover, it helps to take care of our environment !

The plastic bottles should be cut in two : a shorter bottom part (the cup, used as a water tank) and a longer top part (with the stop still on), to be filled with potting soil. In order to cut the bottle in two optimal parts, define the length of the two parts approximately so that, turning over the top part (that will contain potting soil later on) and sliding it into the bottom part, the stop is touching or almost touching the bottom of the cup. If this is not the case the bottle will be rather unstable. Then, a small slit should be cut at the edge at two opposite sides of the bottom cup so that the top part of the bottle can be pushed into the cup until the stop reaches the bottom (short slits will open a bit). It is better to have the bottom cup a bit too long than too short (stability). One can always cut the two slits !

The bottleneck should be perforated at two opposite sides, close to the stop, to create drainage possibilities if too much water is poured in the bottle and to create water absorption possibilities from the bottom cup. Holes of 5 mm diameter are sufficient.

When filling up the inverted top part with potting soil, the soil should be well compressed in order to avoid larger air cavities in the bottle. I recommend to mix a water stocking soil conditioner with the potting soil, but if this is not possible for financial constraints, don’t hesitate to do it without.

During the first days, watering should be abundant to eliminate too much air in the potting soil. As the infiltrating surplus of water will run through the two openings in the bottleneck into the bottom cup (water tank), and as evaporation will be limited (only through the top opening of the bottle), one can save a lot of irrigation water and produce significantly more biomass with less water (less leaching of nutrients from the potting soil, and less evaporation).

Isn’t this a nice solution for some of our main environmental problems in the drylands ?
The same advantages are offered when growing vegetables or young trees in the classical plastic shopping bags.

Fill up a plastic bag with potting soil for 2/3, and keep the two handles of the bag upright, simply by pushing them up and sustaining them with two pieces of a small branch or another support (one at each side of the bag). Thus, a shallow cavity is created above the potting soil in which water can be poured from time to time.

Don’t forget to perforate the lower part of the plastic bag a couple of times at the two opposite sides of the bag, e.g. 2-3 little holes (not slits !) at both sides approximately 1-3 cm ( 0.5 – 1 inch) above the bottom (and not in the bottom itself, so that a bit of water can be kept temporarily in the bag). Vegetables can be seeded or planted in the potting soil. Young tree seedlings can also be grown in such a simple plastic bag.

Considerable advantages :

(1) more biomass with less water (because of less leaching and less evaporation).

(2) eliminate plastic from the environment by burying the used plastic bottles and bags at the end of the growing season, e.g. when planting the tree seedlings in a planting hole (ecological cleaning).

Caution : avoid heating in the bottles or bags by keeping them in half-shade or in places where the number of hours of sunshine is limited (not a full day).

Please set up some experiments and discover the real advantages of gardening in plastic bottles and bags, not in the least the provision of food security and the alleviation of poverty. That’s what I call a success story or best practice for sustainable rural development. I hope that once my preaching in the desert will be heard.

PS. Have a look at my former postings to discover pictures and drawings.



“Thank you so much, Prof., for the explanations and the methodological approaches. I will try something in this area. This will really relieve our poor people in the dryland-areas to improve their nutrition. Similarly this will assist in improving the environmental sanitation by giving use values to the plastic bottles that are being thrown everywhere in our cities. Thank you.

Argania and palm seedlings in a bottle (Willem)

Some weeks ago, I got some seedlings of Argania spinosa and a palm tree growing in my garden. I transplanted them in a plastic bottle to study the possibilities to grow them with a minimum of water.

The potting mix in the plastic bottle was treated with 5 g of the soil conditioner TerraCottem per liter of soil. The water stocking polymers of the TerraCottem reduce the irrigation needs by 50 %.

Seemingly the 3 seedlings are doing very well.

Argania seedlings and palm seedling in bottle
Two Argania seedlings and one palm seedling growing together in a plastic bottle. (Click on the photo to enlarge it).