If you’re planning on growing some fruits and vegetables in containers (also called pots), you may find the selection of plant containers a bit overwhelming. Choosing the correct container for a plant can be crucial, since the wrong one can result in a reduced or failed crop. That said, most vegetables and fruits can be successfully grown in pots.
It all starts with the right plant container and there are many things to consider, so let’s dig into this subject so you’ll have a better idea of which containers to use and why.
Benefits of Gardening in Containers
Many people grow their plants in pots because of lack of space. They may not have a garden, just a small patio or balcony – or nothing at all. And, if they want to grow their plants indoors, plant containers of some kind are the only option available.
But there are other reasons to use containers for growing plants:
- They can be moved around when the seasons change to make the most of the weather. For example, they can be moved out of the sun if it gets too hot or moved indoors in winter to protect the plants from the frost.
- Different plants have different soil and water needs. With containers this can be easily controlled by planting in separate pots.
- Pests and diseases are less of a problem.
- Weeds and therefore weeding can be non-existent.
- Containers are easier to manage for beginning gardeners and children, and can be placed above ground level for older people who have difficulty kneeling or bending.
- Containers can be grouped together for companion planting or for an attractive look.
- Herbs in containers can be placed near the kitchen door, making them easily accessible when needed for a meal.
Plant Container Basics
Plant containers can come in many different shapes, sizes and materials. In fact, if you look around your home and garden you may see many items that can be turned into homes for your plants. All you need to do is cut or drill some holes in the bottom for drainage.
For example, if you want something a bit unusual (and free), think of wooden dresser drawers, buckets, barrels, tin cans, saucepans and colanders. Even old boots have been used to successfully grow plants. But make sure you have first considered the advice below.
This video demonstrates how to make cute plant containers out of everyday items you’ll find in the home such as toilet rolls, cans and wine corks. This can be a fun project for kids:
Whether your plants need a lot of water or not so much, proper drainage is essential. So, make sure your pots have drainage holes. Containers specifically made for plants that you buy from a nursery or garden center will almost certainly have suitable holes.
Size matters. Too large a pot and the soil will dry out slowly, which could lead to root rot. Too small a pot and the soil will dry so quickly that you have to water more often, plus the plant can become root bound.
When a plant has outgrown its container, repot it into one that is 2 to 4 inches larger, depending on the size of the plant and how fast it grows.
Another consideration when growing vegetables is how deep the roots grow. Root crops such as carrots and daikon radishes need deep containers to allow for the long roots. Some plants such as spinach grow long tap roots, whereas strawberries and lettuce have shallow roots.
When buying plant containers, there are several materials to choose from. The main ones are:
Glazed clay and terracotta pots can be beautiful to look at but they tend to be heavy. In addition, they are porous which will cause them to dry out faster and may stain flooring. Add to that, they are not frost proof, so make sure you don’t leave them out in the frost which can cause them to crack. These pots can be expensive to buy and may not last long as they’re easily broken. If you have attractive ceramic pots without holes, you can use them to place less attractive plastic pots inside.
Pots made of plastic and other man made materials are light and suitable for indoor plants. Some mimic more expensive materials while others are more basic. The latter are best placed inside another container for a more pleasing look. Unfortunately, plastic pots may not be a good choice for growing fruits and vegetables since the material may leach chemicals into the soil. They also get hot in the sun, so light colors which reflect the sun are better than brown or black. Plastic containers are the least expensive to buy.
Metals and fake metal pots are also light and if used indoors can create an industrial look. Some may not be waterproof, so keep that in mind and, if necessary, protect with a plastic lining. These containers can get extremely hot in the sun, so choose your plants accordingly and move to a shaded area in hot weather.
Wooden containers can be heavy and are susceptible to rotting over time. Lining with plastic will help prevent this as well as protect flooring if they are placed indoors. The wood can be painted for a fun and colorful outdoor display. However, if protected with a sealant, this may need to be done annually. Cost varies depending on the type of wood, but they can last a long time if carefully maintained.
Fabric pots made of felt or other breathable fabrics, also called grow bags, are light and porous. The material prevents the roots growing in circles once they reach the edge. This is beneficial to the roots and therefore the plant’s health. Grow bags don’t get as hot as metal and plastic pots; they will, however, dry out faster. This is an inexpensive choice.
Some Different Types of Plant Containers
This type of container enables the plant to draw water from a reservoir at the bottom of the container. This is similar to placing a plant pot on a saucer of water so the roots can draw water in as needed, rather than pouring water on top of the soil. The benefits of this are many: nutrients and water are not wasted; you can ignore watering for a few days and your plants never get too dry.
The amount of water the reservoir can hold depends on the design and size of the container. Some of the larger ones will hold enough water for up to 2 weeks. Most have water level indicators, a special port or spout to add water and an overflow hole to let out excess water.
These containers work very well for growing vegetables since the continuous health of the plant will determine the quantity and quality of the harvest.
There are many styles of window boxes available in stores or you can make them yourself if you’re handy. Either way a window box needs to be mounted securely enough to hold the weight of the soil and plants.
Window boxes need not necessarily be made of wood. Some are made of plastics or metals. If made of plastic, consider growing plants like strawberries that drop over the side so they will conceal the unattractive pot.
If placing soil directly into the window box, make sure you line it first. Liners are readily available and come in the form of plastic trays or sheets of coconut fiber. Alternatively, you can plant herbs and small vegetables in inexpensive pots which you then place alongside each other in the window box. It wouldn’t hurt to use a liner in this case, also.
A hanging basket or planter is usually concave in shape although some regular pots can themselves be the “basket.” You can use any suitable container and buy the ropes or chains for hanging it. Keep in mind the weight of the basket when hanging, so make sure it’s hung securely.
When you have nothing overhead to hang from, hooks or hanging plant brackets are the perfect answer as long as you have a wall you can attach them to.
The height of the basket is important too. You’ll need to be able to access it easily for frequent watering; hanging baskets dry out much faster than other containers. One way to overcome this is to buy an extension wand with a spray nozzle for your garden hose. The Green Mount Watering Wand would be a good choice for this purpose.
A few foods that grow well in hanging baskets are strawberries, carrots, radishes, leaf lettuces and cherry tomatoes as well as most herbs.
Raised Garden Beds
Some raised garden beds can fall into the container category since they are basically planters on legs. But, because of their size (some are several feet long) they can hold many more plants than a circular pot. These can be a benefit to people who have difficulty kneeling or bending.
Also because of their size, raised garden beds are delivered in easy-to-assemble kits. They are more expensive than regular containers, but of course one raised bed can replace quite a few containers.
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Growing your fruit and vegetable plants in containers allows for a lot of flexibility and can be a fun way to grow your food. Do not, however, simply choose your containers for their aesthetic look. You need to also consider the size of the plants, the location where they will grow and the cost and durability of the pots.