Container Gardening

Lack of space is no excuse for not gardening. A wide variety of flowers, vegetables and herbs can be readily grown in containers. A container garden can be just as enjoyable as a traditional garden, as long as it receives proper care.

Container Growing
Sunlight is the main factor that determines what can be grown in containers. Vegetables grown for their fruits, such as tomatoes and peppers, most herbs, miniature roses, geraniums, petunias, portulaca, marigolds and zinnias need full sun for at least six hours a day. Caladiums and leaf crops, such as lettuce and spinach, fibrous-rooted begonias, coleus and impatiens can be planted in a more shaded area. Group plants so that all require similar

Clay pots, half barrels and window boxes are the most commonly used containers, but any sturdy container that has ample space for root development and adequate drainage will do. It's best to raise the containers off the ground so excess water can drain freely. If the pot will be on an apartment balcony above another balcony or patio, put saucers or pans under the container to catch water that drains out.

Soil
Soil-less potting mixes, those containing peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite, work best for container gardening because they drain quickly, have high moisture-holding capacity, are lightweight and are free of diseases, harmful insects and weed seeds. Good drainage means fewer problems with root and crown rot and overall better root development.

Planting
Container gardens should be planted at the same time as regular gardens according to the seeds' package instructions. Transplants will get your container garden off to a quicker start. Limit the number of plants based on the container size and the expected mature plant size.

Watering
Potting mix in containers will dry out quickly in warm, windy weather. Daily or even twice daily watering may be necessary. Apply water until it runs out the drain holes. Avoid overwatering, or keeping the soil continually soggy with water standing on top, because this can lead to root rot. Water plants in containers with a watering can or sprayer attachment on a garden hose. Use cool water, rather than hot, because hot water doesn't stimulate root development.

Fertilization
However, soil-less mixes contain little if any nutrients, so a soluble fertilizer should be added every three to four weeks according to label directions. Fertilizing container-grown flowers is not difficult or complicated but there are a few guidelines you should follow. Annual flowers put most of their resources into blooming and attempting to set seed for the next year and therefore are heavy fertilizer users. A weekly application of a water soluble fertilizer, will provide plants with enough nutrients to stay deep green and continue growing and blooming throughout the summer.

* A note of caution- plants should not be fertilized if they are very dry or wilted. Wilted plants should be watered first and allowed to recover from the wilt before fertilizer is applied. In this case, there is no need to let the soil dry out before watering again with the fertilizer solution.

Deadheading
Deadheading annual flowers is another way to increase the number of flowers each plant produces. Deadheading is the practice of removing spent flowers as they begin to fade. Since annual plants need to set seed to continue the next year's generation of plants, if the flowers are removed as they begin to fade the plants will continue to produce more and more flowers in an attempt to produce seed. Deadheading your plants once a week will ensure that they stay beautiful all summer long.