Container Gardening 101

We are going to plan a container garden and the first thing we must think about is what we will actually enjoy eating and growing. There is simply no point in growing something for which we have no appetite unless that particular plant is an essential companion. There is also no point in growing so much of one thing that we simply don’t know what to do with it later. Remember that one superbly grown tomato will yield more fruit that about a dozen poorly grown ones.

I recognize that this plan is not likely to yield enough produce for an entire family or carry us over an entire winter. But with any luck it will make a difference and it will bring beauty and enjoyment to the equation while enormously benefiting all the little creatures like bees, hoverflies, butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects.

Let’s start by returning to the Companion Group. I outlined earlier that perennials, biennials, and tender perennials must go in their own containers. This gives us the option of holding them over inside during the winter. These plants need to be arranged with your vegetable container garden but not planted in the same containers. Occasionally there will be a few exceptions when we get to the gardens themselves.

 Many in the companion group are annuals. Annuals survive one season. They make up quickly and produce lots of flowers and later on lots of seeds, all in a matter of a few months. This makes them heavy feeders that will probably need supplemental nutrients half way through summer. But they are undeniably beautiful and absolutely essential. Perennials tend to take their time and are not particularly heavy feeders until they begin to bloom prolifically. Most of the annuals will find themselves listed in the course of this blog in specific garden collections. For both show and benefit consider adding containers of calendula, dark red or purple petunia, and geranium. They are sold widely in the spring at local garden centers and are desirable when placed throughout your container garden. DO NOT buy them at big chain stores. The plants are so poisoned with chemicals they are killing the bees, bumblebees, and beneficial insects. Remember that as your flowers begin to bloom the spent blossoms must be pinched off to stimulate new flower buds to form.

 We want separate containers of the following herbs: Chive, Winter Savory, Thyme, Hyssop, Agastache, Oregano and Horseradish (if you are going to grow potatoes). They are tough and can survive outdoors in the winter with a minimal amount of protection such as storing them against a warm wall and covering them with a little straw or a floating row cover. Plan to put these in 2-gallon containers (Horseradish in a 5-7 gallon container). If over the years you don’t want them to be continually advanced into bigger and bigger pots, in early spring you can slide them out of their pots, prune off 25% of their roots, add some new soil in the bottom of the same pot and replant them.

 The same thing can be done with tender perennials that do not tolerate the cold but you want to save them for next year. They can be stored in your home or garage over winter where they can rest. This should be an area that is very cool but never freezes. Allowing them to rest means less light too but they do need some. For example, in an otherwise dark garage put some lights on a 10-12 hour timer setting and let the plants rest beneath them. Be sure to reduce the watering as well. Dormant plants will rot if over-watered.

 Our hardy varieties of herbs also have tender relatives that are superb culinary delights such as Greek Oregano, French Tarragon among others. First, learn what their climate zones are and what climate zone in which you reside. Plant listings generally include the range of cold tolerance by climate zone. These examples and other varieties such as Rosemary are usually Zone 7 and that is warmer than most of the US. Climate Zone maps can be found in virtually every garden book and catalog as well as online. If you love to cook with these tender varieties consider having two groups of pots where one group remains under 16-hour lights in active growth or outside during summer while the second group is resting. When the first group is brought in for its annual rest the second group is placed under your lights to be harvested fresh throughout winter.

 Parsley and caraway are a different issue. They are biennials. Parsley is edible only the first season. Although cold tolerant you might prefer to grow it as an annual. I like to grow several pots, some to harvest the first season, others allowed to go on to the second season where they will flower and go to seed. Second season growth is required for caraway if you want to harvest caraway seed. Parsley and caraway are quite beautiful in flower and that is the only stage usable for those lovely beneficial insects we need. If held over for that vital second season specimens can be stored outside over winter with those tough perennials.

 If you recall from the calendar we can begin direct sowing April 15, perhaps earlier if your last frost date is earlier than May 15. This tells us that our containers must be rounded up and filled with organic soil by April 15. Practically anything can be used but if you have to start a collection from scratch spend some time perusing International Greenhouse Company’s website ( I recommend taking a look at the following even though they have a rather vast selection:

Large Nursery Container SKU: CN-NCL

(7 through 25 gallon containers)

Elite Nursery Container SKU: CN-NCE

(1 through 5 gallon containers)

These are sold in small and large bundles. Large bundles create better prices and lend themselves nicely to a group buy. The containers are reasonably priced. Unfortunately and outside anyone’s control the freight can be pricey. There is time to place your order. In the next few weeks all nine garden collections will be posted. Each collection gives specific gallon requirements for each plant. From that information you can decide if you want an assortment of various small containers or you want to buy large containers for big, showy gardens. I personally love the 15-gallon containers because I can plant lots of things in just one and I am able to sit and garden with a container that size.

 The next posts will be the container collections themselves. After that we will talk about soil and many other garden subjects that are essential to learn if you want a healthy, productive, and beautiful garden.

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