Saturday, February 19, 2011

Having to Contain Myself

I did a lecture this past week for a local civic organization. They are wanting to bring back the old victory gardens. I am not old enough to remember them, but I have read about them. Preparedness was the overall theme for the evening. I asked them, and they were very receptive, to me adding a little twist on all of this.....Growing everything in containers.
Why grow everything in containers?
Let me give you a few reasons:
1) You have a small space or no yard. Even people that live in apartments and have a balcony can grow a tomato plant and some herbs.
2) You rent. This is one of my big reasons. I rent and if I want to take my plants with me in the case of wanting or having to move, they can be picked up and thrown in a truck. My lease, as I suspect many others, states that anything planted in the ground must stay in the event of moving.
3) You get bored with the way your yard looks. I know many people that like to re-arrange their living room furniture often. My brother comes to mind. If you are the same with your yard, growing everything in containers makes that a whole lot easier to accomplish.
4) Lengthen your growing season. Even in my Zone 8, Winter is a fact of life. I enjoy seeing things grow, but in 28 degree weather, there is not much of that going on. I can pick up my containers and put them in my greenhouse or if you don't have one of those, a garage, unused bedroom or any place else that can stay warm and well lit. Even if you have to use grow lights.
This can also give you a jump start on the other end of the season. The soil in containers warms up faster than the ground. Seeds and plants grow faster in warmer soil.
What can you use for a plant container?
The easiest answer is, Anything that can hold soil and has good drainage.
It needs to be big enough to house the mature plant. It also needs to be strong enough, or made of something, that will last at least a full season of growing. Cardboard boxes do NOT make a good plant container.
Here is a good example of what I am talking about.

It might be a little difficult to see, but behind the containers of Onion and Garlic is an old bathtub. Yes, you read that right, a bathtub. It actually has Asparagus growing in it. We had our bathtub replaced and instead of throwing it away, instant plant container. It has everything a good container needs, it holds soil, will not fall apart in a single growing season, will hold the mature plant and has drainage. I have toyed with using a toilet for something right next to it, but haven't gotten that far yet.
I have seen old crates used, pickle buckets, laundry hampers, giant tires, just use your imagination and remember the keys, drainage, soil holding, stability and size.
I even found this online:
This could definitely be a conversation starter. Please insert your own jokes here.
There is also the conventional horticulture trade size plastic containers. Here is a little hint as to where you can get some of these, possibly for free. The next time you see a landscaping crew working in your neighborhood, stop and ask them if they have any containers they are wanting to get rid of. Many times they will point to a pile and tell you take what you want, they don't want to haul them back to their shop. What is the worst they can say, "No".
What can be grown in containers?
Again, easy answer: Pretty much anything!


CITRUS (I AM the Citrus Guy after all!)

If you are saying, what about vines and climbing plants?

Trellis' also are used for things like Cucumbers and such.
If you like it, more than likely it can be grown in a container. Sometimes a very LARGE container might be needed, I don't think a 100 foot Coconut palm will do very well in a pot, but hey, I am always willing to try anything.
How to get started?
I will assume you have secured some kind of container, and have decided what you want to grow by now. What kind of soil should you use?
This is definitely a personal choice. There are many, many different kinds of potting mixes available on the market these days. Each one being better suited for one thing than another.
If you want to make your own, here is a simple recipe. This is not rocket science, nor are you baking a cake, these ingredients can be mixed and matched to suit your taste.
2 parts compost
2-4 parts peat
1 part each sand, vermiculite, or perlite
Most of these can be found at any of the big box stores or local nurseries.
Feed me and I will feed you!
Fertilizers are a little trickier in a container than they are for in ground growing plants.
Nitrogen, the first number on any fertilizer package, is probably the most used by your plant. It is also the one that leaches out of the soil the fastest. Every time you water, Nitrogen is leaching out of the soil. There are a number of ways to counteract this problem. Water soluable, i.e. Miracle Grow, should be used on all your annual plants. Things like tomatoes, herbs, carrots, etc. The reason is, a slow release fertilizer, like Osmacote, does not break down fast enough for the plants to use it. The slow release is fine for Citrus, Blueberries and any other perennial plant, but not for the annuals. You can either apply the water soluable every 3-4 weeks or use a 1/4 strength solution every time you water.
Points to keep in mind.
There are a couple of other things that you should keep in mind when growing plants in containers. Plants in pots will dry out much faster than their in ground counter parts. When the soil is dry up to your first knuckle, it is probably time to water. Make sure it is a good, deep watering. You want to see water coming out of the drainage holes. Make sure the soil is being saturated and NOT just running down between the soil and the container side.
The root zone can also get very hot in the Summer time. It is not uncommon for the temperature to reach 120 degrees around the roots. To alleviate this, either paint the pot white using a paint for plastic, or, plant other plants around the base of the container.
This may not be the way our parents or grandparents had their Victory Gardens, but I find it much easier to be in control this way. Soil, water, placement, and lots of soil borne illnesses can be controlled and fixed much faster than if everything was planted in the ground. I will leave you with one last picture of some of MY container Victory Garden. This is two kinds of Okra, some Beans and the corn you saw earlier.

Happy Growing!


  1. The thing I've always wondered, in containers, are you able to grow things closer together then the plant directions say since you are controlling the soil better and controlling the watering better? Or are there other reasons?

  2. Hey Robert, sorry it has taken so long to respond. My e-mail failed to tell me you commented, I have fixed it.
    No, you still need to leave some room between plants. Yes you are controlling the soil and water better, but you need air flow between the plants to avoid things like:
    Plants competing for sun and getting leggy, allowing fruit/veggie to ripen, etc.
    Hope this helps?