Nobody puts Baby in the corner (according to the late, great Patrick Swayze), but put Baby in a container and if she’s a seedling you might just have something. You too can have the time of your life in very small spaces through the joy of container gardening. While it might seem limiting at first, what you could find is that container gardening is a way to broaden—not limit—your gardening possibilities.
Trying to describe exactly what container gardening encompasses might be a little too much like trying to stuff two gallons of growing medium into a one gallon pot.
According to the University of Illinois Extension’s Successful Container Gardens website, container gardening is a way of growing that lets you customize your greenery and growth for any circumstance—this means you can container garden if you live in a 500 square foot sixth-floor walkup or a multi-acre plot in the country.
In fact, one of the biggest pros of container gardening is just how much about it is up to you, which takes us to the first in our list of seven reasons to consider container gardening.
You’re the king of the world
Not everyone can be Leonardo DiCaprio—but you can be the king (or queen) of your own world through container gardening. Container gardening removes any limits that might be imposed on you by climate, seasonal growth patterns or even the kind of restrictions you sometimes encounter if you live in an apartment or condo, which doesn’t allow outside planting. With container gardening, you can grow what you like.
Upcycling: not just for hipsters
If you’ve been to a craft show or visited DIY websites, you’ll have noticed the term ‘upcycling.’ Suddenly, recycling just isn’t good enough—now you need to find newer, better uses for your stuff instead of just sorting it out at the curb. With container gardening, you’ve got the perfect excuse to upcycle. Check around your home for throwaways like yogurt cartons, coffee cans and even old planters and pots relegated to your garage.
As the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension puts it, “If it holds soil, it’s a container.” All of these items would make ideal homes for your new container garden—in fact, smaller items such as those old (cleaned out, of course) yogurt containers are the ideal size to line a windowsill and start growing your own salad fixings. Suddenly, you’re a trendsetter—you’re not only growing your own, but you’re reducing your waste footprint by upcycling as well!
Choose your own adventure
With container gardening you have so many choices—and each choice you make will reveal something about you as a gardener. You’ve got your choice of the actual containers you’ll be growing in, but then you also get to choose your growing medium. In most cases soil and nutrients will be the options you’ll choose, but don’t rule out hydroponics. In many cases hydroponics is container gardening—just on a much larger scale.
Once you open up to that option, you’ll have choices like coco coir, rockwool, perlite and other media in which to house your soon-to-be lush greenery. And of course you’ll also get to choose what you plant. It doesn’t matter any more if you only get sun three hours a day (for plants that need massive sun exposure daily) or if you experience morning cold snaps that would be deadly to fragile new growth—container gardening makes all of that irrelevant.
A gift for growing gifts
Whether you already have a thumb so green it’s verdant or you’re just starting out, container gardening can make gift-giving easy. Remember that joy you felt as a child being able to say, “I made it myself?” Whether it was a macaroni face on a plate or a strange, floppy piece of pottery, DIY always seemed to mean more than store-bought. With container gardening, you get to say ‘GIY’—you grew it yourself.
Got a friend who loves those lavender sachets? Decorate a few pots and get planting the real thing. Of course, good things come to those who wait—you’ll need to plan in advance if you’re going to grow your own gifts so that they’ll be fresh and ready when it’s time to bestow them on their eager recipients. You can even do themes—say, sprigs of mint in red-and-green painted pots for Christmas.
You probably can’t grow everything you need for a three-course meal in your container garden—but this doesn’t mean your container garden can’t contribute in a big way to your meal planning. You can grow all the elements you need to make an entire salad, herbs and spices to soup up sauces, plus fruits and vegetables to round out the meal. In many cases, you might even find yourself consulting the garden before you plan your menu—what’s sprouting, ripe and ready to pluck might be what’s for dinner that evening.
Going the extra mile
One of the biggest pluses of container gardening is just how flexible it really is. There’s no competition—you don’t have to worry about whether your neighbor has five azalea bushes that have bloomed before yours even took root. The container garden ball is entirely in your corner, and whether you want to bunt, kick or knock it out of the park is up to you. If you’d like to take things further, you can enhance your container garden with options such as grow lights (available from hydroponics stores), automatic waterers and more. You can also move the containers (another big bonus of container gardens is their portability) throughout the day to take advantage of the best sunlight. Depending on what you’re growing, a wealth of additives and nutrients to encourage bloom and taste can also be part of your daily routine—if you want it to. But you can also just fill a few containers with soil, plunk in your seeds or cuttings and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your hard labor at your own pace.
The truth is out there
Also known as ‘we are not alone.’ Container gardening might seem, well, rather contained. It’s something you can do entirely on your own—but you don’t have to. Maybe you’re wondering how to get started, maybe you want to know what’s best to buy or maybe you want to find expert advice. While a quick check of the Internet can ‘plant the seeds’ for you to get started, dig a little deeper to learn from those who really know.
Novice and long-term container gardeners will find truly helpful information on many college websites—especially ones with agricultural extensions, such as West Virginia University. On the WVU Extension Service website you’ll find suggestions on containers, watering, media and lighting and a list of recommended vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers that do well in container gardening applications.
There are also many books (in both print and electronic versions), web tutorials, videos and free sessions at gardening stores and local gardening clubs just waiting to help you get started.