How can I grow vegetables or flowers in pots? This is a question that I get each year, especially when it comes time to plant tomatoes.
Growing plants in containers can be simple when it is done collectively. There are a number of reasons for growing flowers or vegetables in containers.
The first reason is space. The first place my wife and I lived was in an apartment that had a 10-foot by 6-foot concrete patio. In this area, we grew a few tomatoes, peppers, squash and flowers.
The second reason is for planting unique plants in unique containers for interest and color.
The third reason is to compensate for poor drainage, not enough sun or soil-borne pathogens, such as bacterial wilt or nematodes.
The last reason for using containers is flexibility and mobility. You can change from one flowering plant to another rapidly and have continuous color. Also, you can move the container when you need a splash of color in another area of your garden.
Interesting containers often make plants stand out more. There are a couple of considerations to look for when choosing a container.
The first is drainage holes. Containers used for growing plants need drainage holes to remove excess water. If the containers don't have drainage holes, you will need to drill holes in them.
The second consideration is size. I have seen plants grown successfully in a small container. However, they need more care than plants grown in larger containers. Plants grown in larger containers tend to be healthier, faster-growing and produce more flowers than those grown in smaller pots.
Besides the size of the container, the soil mix used will determine your success. You need a mix that is porous and drains well. Most of the quality commercial mixes meet this requirement. Most commercial potting mixtures are a combination of vermiculite and peat moss as well as either perlite or ground pine bark. The last two ingredients are used to improve drainage and create a porous soil. If the soil doesn't drain well, it will become saturated and the plants will develop root rot.
Commercial mixtures work well when you have a few containers to fill. For a large number of containers, you can make your own soil mix. There are many formulas for soil mixes, but one that works well will contain a mixture of 50 percent soil and 50 percent organic matter. One of the best organic matter amendments to use is ground pine bark that has a one-quarter to three-eights of an inch particle size.
Peat moss can be used as the organic matter source, but use the coarser type of peat and not the fine, muck types. If you use peat and the soil holds too much water, add perlite.
One of the problems with growing plants in containers is providing them with enough water. Because the soil is well-drained, watering is needed more often. However, there are gels on the market that absorb water and release it over time. These gels -- the same found in disposable diapers -- allow you to water less often.
A word of caution when using gels. Make sure you use the recommended rate for the product. These gels will expand as they absorb water. If you use too much, as they expand they can push the soil and plants out of the containers.
Plants that are grown in containers have the same basic nutrition needs as plants grown in the ground. Therefore, if you make your own potting soil mixture, you need to add fertilizer and lime to the mix. If you buy a potting soil mix, most of them have a fertilizer and lime added to them. If fertilizer and lime were added, you don't have to fertilize the plants for the two or three weeks after planting. After two to three weeks, you need to start fertilizing.
If you use a liquid-type fertilizer, follow the directions for the product. Most of the time, you will fertilize every two to three weeks. However, if you want more rapid growth, fertilize every week or two weeks.
The best way to fertilize plants is to use a slow-release fertilizer. The rates that you use will depend on the product.
Gardening in containers can be challenging, but it also can be fun and rewarding.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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