I’m so thrilled to share this guest post from author Angela England, whose Gardening Like a Ninja: A Guide to Sneaking Delicious Edibles into Your Landscape book is on shelves now. Don’t know how to garden? Angela shows how container gardening lets you grow food and foliage anywhere—from indoor pot or window shelf to a front stoop. I’ve got the scoop on Angela’s world-famous “salsa garden,” and you can also enter to win a copy of her amazing new book!
Don’t know how to garden? Angela England shows us how to plant container gardens anywhere! Plus, win a copy of her amazing new book!
How to Garden in a Container
With edible landscaping techniques, the focus is as much on looks as it is on food production. A successful design is both pleasing to the eye and incorporates useful plants. This means when you are using containers as part of your landscape design, consider the container itself as a design element. Use one that matches the style of your home and garden style. Consider the color as choose something that will blend in well, or stand out and echo your accent colors.
When you grow a plant in a container you are restricting the natural root growth of the plant. The more severe the restriction the more potential difficulty the plant will have regulating water intake and getting the nutrients it needs. With that in mind, choose a larger container whenever possible. As you learn how to garden in a container, you’ll see that deep is better than shallow, as it will hold more water and allow more root growth for increased plant stability.
Pick A Rockstar
The amazing thing about plants is how many varieties exist. So if you want, say, a pepper plant, you can choose from over a thousand different peppers. Some of these will naturally tend to grow very large, even a few feet tall, and will require support. Other types of peppers will be naturally smaller—called dwarves—and these tend to be better suited for containers.
Obviously is the space is more limited in a container, it makes sense that a dwarf plant would do better than a larger-sized plant. Look for the name “nana” in the Latin name, or words like “dwarf” or “compact” in the description of the plant. These plants will naturally be more diminutive or compact and better tolerate being grown in the restrictive confines of a container.
Plants typically reach roots far beyond their visible growth limits to grab the nutrients they need. In a container they cannot do that, so every bit of the soil in your container needs to be full of rich, organic matter. Many gardeners rely heavily on compost for the bulk of their container medium and this can really help provide a nutrient-rich foundation. You should anticipate renewing this soil seasonally or yearly depending on the type of plants you are growing.
Expect to add nutrients to the container through the growing season. Whether that means top-dressing with a layer of compost or using a water-soluble fertilizer is totally up to you. But your container plants will be a lot healthier and perform better with some input of nutrients halfway through the season and as needed. I like to use a good organic fertilizer like manure tea (check out MooPoo Tea if you don’t have access to good manure locally) or fish emulsion to give the plants a real boost.
Keep It In Season
At first, pulling out plants felt like garden slaughter to me. But after a few months, I learned that if you plant containers with a certain look and feel in mind, sometimes that means pruning, deadheading, or even removing plants when they are spent. Rotating new plants in to fill the gaps will keep your containers looking fresh and beautiful, as well as ensuring they are productive.
This is especially true if you are gardening in a zone with more extreme climate shifts. If I have a “salad herbs” container garden I might include cool-season edibles like cilantro or pansies early in the season, but in the heat of summer these plants will fade. I could leave them looking melty and pathetic and ruin the effect of the container in the garden, but I think it’s better to rip them out when they first start to decline and replace them with something better suited to the season.
Angela England’s Salsa Garden DIY
I love grouping my container plants according to garden themes. There are many themed gardens you can try planting. But a favorite garden theme of mine is the Salsa Garden!
You’ll need plants of:
Fill in the bottom of a large container with potting soil mix suitable for vegetables until you reach the depth at which you want to plant your tomato. Once you’ve gotten the tomato plant in the middle of the container, fill in some soil around the outside and then add your herb plants. Remember to make sure that the entire pot is under the surface level of the soil instead of allowing the pot edge to stick out. This will help make sure your plant gets plenty of water.
This simple container won’t take up a lot of room but could provide a homemade salad, or bowl of homemade salsa, even in a very limited amount of space.
Want to learn how to garden? Win Angela’s book!
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Angela England is the author of Gardening Like a Ninja: A Guide to Sneaking Delicious Edibles into Your Landscape and Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less). As the founder of the Untrained Housewife blog, as well as the Homestead Bloggers Network, Angela loves helping people embrace a more intentional and self-sufficient living. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and five children and is always learning something new.