Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources
Containers add a touch of whimsy to your gardening efforts
However, if you do not have ample space in your yard, do not feel like you are left out of the gardening circle. For those who have limited space, a great alternative, and one in which you can let your imagination run wild, is container gardening.
David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture, said the sky is the limit when it comes to container gardening.
“The great thing about container gardening is even if you have just a few square feet, gardeners can get creative and dress up what space is available,” Hillock said. “A spot on a concrete patio or a little space on an apartment balcony can help you bring out your inner gardener.
One misconception gardeners may have about planting in containers is they will be limited to flowers or small shrubs. Fortunately, container gardening lends itself to nearly the same type of gardening available in a traditional landscape – only on a smaller scale. There are lots of options for planting edibles.
Keep in mind, however, container gardening still requires the same elements as traditional gardening, but it typically is not as time consuming.
When it comes to the container itself, get creative. Anyone can go to the gardening store and pick up the basic terracotta pot. Think about your personality and see if you can find containers that reflect your interests.
If antiques are your thing, consider using an old galvanized wash tub or bucket as a planter. A bird bath that is not being used for birds any longer is another great choice. An old wheelbarrow filled with colorful flowers is a great addition to a small yard. A child’s wagon or even an old toy dump truck can hold a variety of plants. Smaller, shallower containers are a great choice for succulents.
Try planting herbs in old coffee cups and placing them on a small metal table for a whimsical look in your yard or patio. Make use of an old log by hollowing it out and filling it with plants. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
“Whatever container you choose, make sure it has good drainage. If your potting soil becomes waterlogged, your plants can experience root rot and won’t survive,” Hillock said. “If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, just drill a few through the bottom.”
Once you have the container selected, it is time to head to the gardening store to select the potting soil and plants. Just as you need good quality soil for traditional gardening, it is a must for container gardening as well. Hillock suggests starting with a reputable potting soil manufacturer, which will be weed and disease free. Because you will be watering frequently, nutrients can get washed out overtime. Adding a water-soluble fertilizer to the water when irrigating, or using a slow-release fertilizer such as Ozmocote, can be beneficial. Be sure to follow label directions.
“When selecting the plants you want to grow, be sure to choose plants for the sun/shade exposure you have in the space you want to place the containers. Also, if different types of plants are going in the same container, make sure they have similar sun, shade, fertilizer and water requirements,” he said. “It’ll be a disappointing outcome if your plants don’t have similar needs.”
Once the flowers, herbs or vegetables planted, it is important need to keep the containers fertilized and watered. Hillock said the heat of an Oklahoma summer can be intense, therefore, the soil in containers will dry out much quicker than traditional beds.
“So, while you’ll save some time because you won’t be weeding, you’ll spend more time watering,” he said. “In fact, depending on the size of the container and the intensity of the heat, you may have to water twice per day.”
To help create visual interest in your containers, consider planting an upright, bold plant in the middle. Fill in the space around the taller plant with filler plants and finish it off with a plant variety that will drape over the edges of the container. Gardeners also can add interest with pebbles, rocks and other nonplant materials.
When deciding which edibles to plant, zucchini, squash, bush beans and patio tomatoes, along with a variety of herbs, are great choices for containers. Because space is limited, you are not likely to be inundated with more produce than can be consumed.
While ease of care is a big advantage to container gardening, Hillock pointed out another factor that can make it even more appealing.
Your containers are portable. If you happen to move to a new location, simply load up your containers and go. If you are staying put, but the sun exposure on the patio is changing throughout the summer, simply move the containers into or out of the shade. And as the weather cools down in the fall, gardeners can move some of the plants indoors. This will allow you to enjoy those fresh herbs all year long.
“Don’t give up on your dream of having a garden simply because you live somewhere in which the outdoor space is limited,” Hillock said. “With container gardening, the only limitation is your imagination.”
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK 74078