Gardening in Limited Space Using Container Gardens, Part 2

Uploaded by TheUniversityofMaine on 07.04.2010

Barbara Murphy, Extension Educator: "As we get our potting soil together and water and
think about our containers, we also have to think about how we're going to fertilize the
plants. There are a couple of options. One of which is, you can take a standard granular
fertilizer, such as ten-ten-ten, and you can mix it right into the mix as you're preparing
it. The rule of thumb is about one cup of granular ten-ten-ten to about a bushel's worth
of soil. Just mix it in and you're ready to get started.
"How much to put into the container really does depend on how many things you're going
to put in the container. For example, in the container we're using today, we're going to
put one tomato plant. Tomatoes have huge root systems and grow quite tall. When you fill
your container, you want to make certain that it's relatively close to the rim, but remember
you need space to add water and fertilizer, so don't put the soil right up to the edge.
The soil may settle over time and early in the process you can always add a bit more
"OK, our container's full of moist, fertilized soil, and now we're ready to transplant. In
this size container, only one tomato will be able to grow. Remember, tomatoes are large
and gangly, and we need to choose a determinate tomato--you want to choose a tomato that will
grow to a certain height and then stop. If you don't know what varieties are determinate
or not, ask one of your local nursery people or greenhouse operators--they'll be happy
to help you.
"So, we're ready to go. Our tomato plant has nice roots formed all the way around the side.
We're just going to put a nice trench hole in there, put our tomato seedling in and firmly
plant. Remember, tomato seedlings will form roots all the way up the stem, so you can
bury the seedling on the deep end. As this tomato grows, the roots are going to fill
out into the container, but the plant's going to be large. You will need to prepare for
that and either have a trellis, or some kind of system where the plant can be held upright.
"Smaller, window box type containers are perfect for herbs. This is a nice setting for three
herbs--rosemary, parsley and sage. They'll grow to full size right here and are within
easy reach of your kitchen if you hang it right outside your kitchen window. Once you
transplant your seedlings, the next critical step is to water them well. Usually, for most
home gardeners, there are just two options. You can use your standard watering can. The
key is to water thoroughly. You want to make sure that the whole rooting medium is nice
and saturated, so pour slowly and evenly. These soilless mixes, if they dry out to bone
dry, they're very difficult to re-wet, so you water until the whole soil profile is
saturated. On your home deck or your back yard, you will watch for water to actually
leak out the bottom of your pots. The other option for larger containers, or for people
who have lots of them, is to use your garden hose with a breaker on the end so you get
a nice gentle flow that can be adjusted. This way, I can just saturate the soil slowly and
gently. You don't want a full force that will actually wash the soil away from the root
ball. Remember, your garden plants don't have access to the earth, where they can mine for
water through acres of ground if need be. During the hot, dry parts of the summer, you
may have to water your plants multiple times a day, depending on the strength of the sun
and the wind.
"The last step to container gardening that we need to think about, in addition to regular
watering, is fertilizing. These soilless mixes have almost no nutrient value. They have a
little fertilizer charge to get you started, but on the whole, it's up to you to fertilize
your plants. In our first example, we actually added some granular fertilizer to the mix,
so if you do that, your plants will get off to a good start, but you will have fertilize
again. So, let's talk about what you might want to consider. It needs to be a liquid-based
fertilizer--something that either comes as a liquid or dissolves in water. Two common
types are a synthetic one that is a powder that you'd add a tablespoon or two per gallon,
whatever the directions say. The other one is an organic, maybe seaweed or fish-based
emulsion. Just remember that, in general, organic fertilizers have less nutrient boost
per watering than a synthetic one does. All you need to do is follow the instructions
on the container and mix up your watering can full of the mix.
"There are two ways you can think about fertilizing. Some of us would prefer to fertilize at full-strength
every week or so, and if that's the case, you'd follow the label, make full-strength,
and every week or two, or as your plants need it, you would fertilize after you water--we
don't ever fertilize dry soil. For those of you who have interrupted schedules, or prefer
to fertilize a little bit every time so you don't have to remember, 'Did I fertilize last
week or not?', you can mix up your container, but now you're just going to use the fertilizer
at one-fifth strength. So, if it called for a tablespoon to the gallon, you'd would either
take a fifth of a tablespoon per gallon, or you'd take that tablespoon and put it into
a five gallon solution and fill your watering can from there. If you choose to do that,
then every time you water you're going to fertilize just a little bit.
"As you can see, container gardening offers a wide variety of choices of different types
of vegetables that will do fine in a container, from tomatoes, herbs, to lettuce and much,
much more. It's not that complicated to do--just a little bit of investment in a pot and your
time, and you're on your way."