Thursday, May 29, 2014

How To: Container Gardening

Have you ever wondered how to container garden successfully? It's so nice to walk out onto your deck or patio (or wherever is convenient for you) and tend you plants. It's even nicer to pluck the fruits of your labor just a few steps from your door. There are a few tricks of the trade for a successful gardening season if you're going to use containers though. Most important: irrigation. Really important: size of pots.

Here's how I did my tomato plants in my container garden.

Aren't they pretty?

First thing you want to do is find some large pots. For tomato plants, the bigger, the better. These are mineral buckets for cows that a friend gave me (thank Kayla!). These are probably at least 21" pots. The bigger the pot is, the bigger your plant will grown.

First things first: drill holes in the bottom. Even store bought planters and pots usually need holes poked or drilled in them (check the bottom, there are instructions!). Water needs to be able to drain from the pot or your soil (and roots) will get water bound and stagnant. 

Here's a close up of the holes. They don't need to be huge, but they do need to be big enough to allow a good soaking rain or thunderstorm to drain.

There are all kinds of potting soils and mixes. I like Miracle Grow Potting MIX. It has Miracle Grow mixed in and will feed your plants for about 6 months. For the size pots I was using, I got the biggest bag I could find at Lowe's for EACH pot. Yes, a bag for each pot. I grabbed an extra smaller bag (pictured) just in case. Potting soil "keeps" so it won't go to waste. 

Here's a picture of one of my tomato plants before I started. It's in a "cage" in this pot. You will need to find some way to let your tomato plants climb. You can buy ready made cages specifically for tomatoes or tomato stakes to tie them to. My deck has some really tall posts - for what reason, I don't know - but they're perfect for tomato plants.

Note: I skipped a day of watering before I repotted my tomato plants. Dry dirt sticks to the roots and sticks together better than wet dirt and makes it easier to lift the plant out of the pot. Dry dirt is also lighter - and you're going to have to do a little lifting and tugging.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: IRRIGATE YOUR PLANTS! Throw an inch or two of rocks in the bottom of your pot. Get it out of your driveway or down by the river. Wherever you can find some rocks. Buy a bag of rocks if you have to, but make sure and have an irrigation system in there! **you can also use broken glass, crushed up soda cans, shells, etc.

Dump some of your potting mix in there. Fill your container about 2/3 full with dirt.

Make a "hole" in the center of your dirt in your container. This is where you will set your plant and it comes with some of it's own dirt.

Carefully squeeze around the pot your plant is already in to loosen the dirt around the sides. You can slit the container down the side if you want to. It makes it easier to remove the plant, but it ruins your pot. I like to save my pots as they are a bit of an investment every year. I just tilt my pots sideways and bear hug them with one arm while gently pulling on the plant with the other. When you get the plant loose, set it in the hole you made in your dirt.

If your plant is very big, it might be flopping everywhere. It's important to tie it up or stake it off before you go any further. You can't hardly tell, but there is maroon yarn tying up some of my plant as a temporary way to keep it put.

Now, get to scoopin'. Fill your pot almost to the top with more potting mix. I do this a large glass at a time. I'm always afraid if I try to lift the bag to pour, it's going to get away from me and I'll bury my plant and have a huge mess. These things are delicate, ya know.

Now, your plant is all filled in with dirt and tied up nice and sturdy. 

Now you water....and water and water and water. Try to get your dirt good and wet. Potting mix is pretty light - and therefore needs to get pretty saturated. I try to plan my transplants when it's supposed to rain within the first 24 hours. But, you still need to get some water in there (especially if you skipped a day to make it easier to handle). I think I put 4 gallons of water in each tomato plant....came back a couple hours later and put another 2 gallons...then repeated one more time. After the dirt is saturated the first time, it will be black - tomato plants need water daily. If it doesn't rain, I water mine every day and enough water to make some run out the drain holes. **other plants don't always need that much water, but tomato plants do!

One last thing....eggshells! Put a layer of crushed up eggshells on top of your dirt. Eggshells repel some insects and slugs because of their sharp edges. I have about 3 dozen eggshells in this plant alone. It takes quite a lot - if you start saving now, you can use this handy trick for next years container garden!