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Container gardening: Good things grow in small spaces

May 26, 2018 Updated: May 29, 2018 at 10:54 am
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Container plants at Phelan Gardens. Thursday, May 10, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

No room for a garden? No problem.

Those who don't have the space or desire to grow a full garden can try container gardening.

"If you don't have room in your landscape, make sure you have enough sun and a deep enough pot so your plant can grow and expand and produce," said Kristen Burnside, owner-manager at Harding Nursery, 721 N. Powers Blvd. "A lot of people are in apartments, so they don't have soil in the ground. They can do a lot of vertical gardening. You can optimize your space."

When should you plant? How about now. Late May is the perfect time to plant a container garden.

Start by cleaning up last year's plant pots and buying some fresh soil and plants.

"Right now is a great time. With Colorado weather, around Mother's Day is what we recommend," Burnside said.

When you're planning what will go in your containers, first "decide to do organic or not, depending on your lifestyle, when choosing plants, soil and fertilizer," Burnside said.

Pick your pot

Container plants as hanging plants at Phelan Gardens. Thursday, May 10, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Choose a container with ample drainage so your plants don't become waterlogged. You also can drill holes in a container that doesn't have them.

When planting vegetables, know how big they're going to get and choose the container accordingly. A larger pot means less stress on the roots. The bigger the container, the better, said Larry Stebbins, founder of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and author of "A Backyard Vegetable Gardening Guide."

"Small containers dry out, and you have to water them twice a day. A larger container is going to be less maintenance for you because it won't dry out. I suggest half of a whiskey barrel-size," he said. "You can use any container. I tell people you can just buy a bag of raised-bed garden mix, poke some holes in the bottom and stick your plant right in there.

"Also, those cheap storage totes work wonderfully - just make sure you have enough holes in the bottom."

Stebbins once used a child's swimming pool as a planting vessel.

"It worked really good. You can plant tomatoes and a couple of squash in those puppies," he said. "Go around to neighborhood garage sales and see what you can find. Who cares if there's a bunch of Disney characters on the side?"

Fresh, new soil

Don't re-use last year's soil "because it may contain disease organisms," says the Colorado State University Extension service.

Stebbins said, "Never skimp on the soil. Get bagged soil mix specific for containers."

He advised taking last year's soil from containers and incorporating it into garden beds, then enriching it as needed.

Choose plants

"With the herb garden, you can have nine months of deliciousness to add to your cooking," Stebbins said. "We plant perennial herbs that will come back year after year - usually close to a door.

"There's English thyme, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, chives and garlic chives. We like to use those as a perennial garden for our cooking. They all will tolerate some fierce weather. And (after the winter) they'll start to come back."

Be sure not to put so many plants in one pot that it's overgrowing, Burnside said.

Now's a good time to put out tomato plants, most of which will mature in July, Stebbins said.

"Are the vegetables root vegetables, or do they produce on top of the ground? Also, make sure it's an annual. Some herbs are perennials," Burnside said.

Look for vegetable plants in patio or dwarf versions. Some that do well are tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.

"If you're going to do tomatoes, pick one that doesn't get too tall. If you want, you can actually trellis up. Cucumbers will go straight up that trellis. Pole beans do really good. Put some sticks in for them to climb up," Stebbins said.

Have fun with plant and flower colors. Coleus, for instance, come in many color varieties and look pretty planted on their own or mixed with flowering plants.

Geraniums, petunias, verbena, salvia, impatiens and fuschias are all flowering plants recommended for this climate by CSU Extension.

Cactuses and succulents also do well in full sun, but they can get sunburned.

Container plants at Phelan Gardens. Thursday, May 10, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Half to full shift of sun

Flowers, plants and vegetables as a rule need eight hours of full sun. Leafy veggies and herbs need at least four hours of sun, per CSU.

"Plant in full sun. Just think about farmers - no farmer would plant his crops in the shade," Stebbins said. "Keep the soil nice and moist. Also, have an area to protect the plants from wind, such as a warm south-facing wall or corner of a house or fence. They really do well in those spots."

With container gardening is that if your pot is in too much sun or shade, you can move it.

Water more often

Container gardens need more frequent watering than in-ground plants. Be sure not to allow the soil in containers to dry out completely between waterings, or the plant's fine roots may die.

You might need to water once or even twice a day as the plants grow larger or the summer heat sets in.

Fertilize generously

You can fertilize soil at the time of planting, using controlled-release fertilizer granules. In our arid climate, more fertilizer will be needed throughout the plant's growing cycle.

Stebbins said he prefers organic fertilizer.

"When I start out, I get good rich soil with compost. Look for Yum Yum Mix at local independent gardens shops. It's not burning, and it's organic. I add fish emulsion and seaweed extract. It helps the soil.

"You want to feed the soil to feed your plants. Think of an earthworm. Would he like to eat a blue chemical or compost?"

Enjoy the beauty

With minimal upkeep, your flowers, plants and vegetables will last through the summer and into fall if spared an early frost. Just keep up your watering regime and enjoy the salad or pretty flowers that grow in your container garden.

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