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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Jacquelyn Evers's picture

It’s getting to be that time of the year again… the time when we stop dreaming about the exciting vegetables we plan to grow in our garden and actually start planting seeds. If you are like me and don’t have access to land to plant your garden, you might consider gardening in containers. This year will be my fourth year experimenting with container gardening and I have learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t, so I thought I would share a few of my failures (turned successes of course) to help get you going on the right foot. 

Make sure your seedlings are strong/sturdy before moving outdoors. 
It never fails. I get way too excited to get my plants outside and I end up sacrificing some great starts to my careless ways. Maybe we have a particularly windy balcony or maybe this is just a common knowledge in the garden world. We have found great success in starting our seeds in little dirt pods we start in an indoor greenhouse. Those dirt pods get transplanted into slightly bigger containers and then again into slightly bigger containers and then finally into the plant’s final destination outdoors. We have also found success in staking our plants so that they have the extra support they need.  

Don’t reuse old potting soil.
A few years ago, when we were just getting started, we made this terrible mistake. We noticed right away that the fruit our plants were producing was not great and not abundant. Luckily we caught this early enough to correct with added compost and other nutrients, but we certainly lost a good portion of our growing season. We found success in using new potting soil each year or mixing 50% compost with 50% old soil. We have also found the need to fertilize frequently throughout the summer. Remember container gardens require more fertilization than plants in the ground because there is limited space for the plants to get nutrients in a container. 

Watering is different with containers, so pay attention.
I also fail at this one every year. Even when your plants are in the appropriate sized containers, they still require a great deal of water… especially container tomatoes. Make sure your soil is not dry, but nearly dry, before you water again and don’t get water on the leaves. Also, if your soil stays wet for too long you will get fungus and/or bugs and that will pretty much end your plant’s life.

Use containers with holes in the bottom and don’t set the containers on trays. 
It’s important for the water to drain, which helps control overwatering. With that being said, if you leave your container with a hole on a tray, it makes the draining part a bit more difficult.

Tie your plants down if you are not on the ground floor. 
We container garden because we live on the third floor of a condo. I’d be lying if I said we haven’t lost a number of beautiful vegetable plants to wind and irresponsibility. Over the years we have become creative with where we put plants and how we tie them down to ensure they don’t blow off the balcony. This also gets to be a problem during sudden thunderstorms. But just like the rest of the world, we still make mistakes, though thankfully no one was underneath our hanging strawberry plant that plunged to its death last summer!

Zucchini does not like container gardens… or maybe just not our container garden :(
I want this to happen so bad, but it just won’t. In the four years we’ve been gardening I have successfully grown three zucchini and I won’t tell you how many plants it took for that to happen. Every year we get bugs. It doesn’t matter how carefully we plant or what we do to take care of the plants, they just always get bugs. I’m open to suggestions on this one!

Don’t grow plants with taproots unless you have chosen specific varieties or have very deep containers.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Taproot hits bottom of container, plant stops growing.

Hopefully some of our container gardening failures will be of use as you begin working to plan your garden for the year. And if you are still on edge because you don’t want to pick a complicated plant to grown, the top five plants we have grown year after year without trouble are:

Basil
Green Onions
Cherry Tomatoes
Peppers - though not bell peppers, those are a bit more difficult
Radishes

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