Container Gardening and Fertilizing Methods

Today we are going to look into container gardening and discuss fertilizing methods to ensure the success of your plants. One of the best ways to grow vegetables if you have limited space, is through the use of containers. But how do you know what type of container to choose? And what types of fertilizing methods can you use? For new gardeners this can seem a bit confusing, but today we will help to show you how simple it can be to grow your own food regardless of how much space you have to work with.

Some examples of good containers include clay, pottery, wood, plastic, or you can make your own out of items you find around your home and re-purpose them.

Choosing the right container is pretty simple, you just need to make sure that it holds soil and has drainage holes in the bottom. If you have a container that does not already have holes for drainage such as a tote, you can easily drill them yourself. An important note is to make sure that whichever type of container you choose that it provides adequate space for the roots.

The next step, which is very important, is making sure you are using a good soil mixture. First you need to make sure that the soil need is well aerated and well drained, but yet is able to retain enough moisture for your plants.

Different plants have different needs, so remember to research their needs prior to planting. Garden soil for instance generally should never be used by itself. This is because when you put it in a container the aeration and drainage are already severely impeded and using garden soil alone may cause your plants to grow poorly.

Instead look for specific soils that are made specifically for container gardening. These often include peat, bark, coir fiber (ground coconut hulls), and vermiculite.

If garden soil is used, it is recommended to mix one part of the soil, and one part peat moss, and one part per-lite and make sure to slightly moisten the soil mixture prior to planting.
When I do my containers, I also put either straw in the bottom of the containers to help with aeration and drainage or I ball up old newspaper and use that.

As with any type of gardening, you have to consider the environmental factors, for instance making sure you situate your plants in an area that is well lite; especially, if the plant requires a lot of light. One benefit to using containers is that they are obviously portable. If you’re growing something that only requires a few hours of light for instance, then you can easily move it into shade later in the day. Make sure you are aware if the plants you are growing are heat tolerable.

Here in Oklahoma we can have some really hot summers and go for days without rain. So, keeping the plants at a comfortable temperature is vital. Where we specifically live, it is very open so another thing we have to keep in mind is the wind.

Make sure you locate your containers are in a spot where they will not blow right over. And remember, if you choose a container that is a dark color, it will absorb more heat. This is important to consider as some plants will not tolerate it very well.

When watering your container plants there is no absolute rules, however remember to regularly check the soil. If the first inch of soil is dry, then you know it needs water. Give the plants enough water so that you see a few drips come out of the drainage holes. This helps you also know that you have gotten some leaching of the soil. Leaching moves away any harmful buildup of soluble salts in the soil; which often comes from fertilizers and water sources.

Regular watering can also cause the nutrients to leach out. To help prevent this, you may need to add in additional nutrients back to the soil. One way most people do this is from using fertilizers. You can purchase slow release or liquid versions of these, generally reapplying every two weeks. Make sure that you use the appropriate type for the plants or vegetables you are growing.

An example of this is that plants need a fertilizer with high nitrogen sources, while vegetables need lower amount of nitrogen and higher phosphorous types. If you prefer to use organic methods to fertilize the soil you can use compost, rock powders along with compost, manures, worm castings, manure teas, or fish emulsion fertilizer.


Let’s look into each of these for some clarification:

First let’s talk about compost.

You can make your own compost using a bin or a compost container, which can be either purchased or homemade.  All you do is add in green material such as food scraps like fruit and veggie scraps, (no grease, bones or meat), egg shells, grass trimmings, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, sawdust or wood shavings (untreated), dryer lint and manure. You should also use a mix of brown material like leaves, shredded paper and cardboard, and hay.

Keep this mixture moist, turning every 7-10 days. Turning it also allows you to check the moisture level. There are some people who don’t think that it needs turned, but it is said to speed up the decomposition process.

Rock fertilizers provide trace elements to the soil as they break down slowly. They should be applied with the compost because they do not supply any nitrogen and last 5 to 10 years.Manure is also a good natural fertilizer to use and the most widely available. There are five basic manure types that are used. These are cow, hog, sheep, poultry, and horse. Cow and hog manure is considered cold manure because it has high water content and ferments slowly.

Sheep, poultry, and horse manure is known as hot manure. It is richer in nitrogen and ferments more easily. Manure should only be added after it has decomposed properly, because of the bacteria’s it contains.  Using manure to make a tea for your garden or plants is also a great method to fertilize.
Worm castings are an excellent fertilizer because one tablespoon provides enough organic nutrients to feed a 6” potted plant for more than two months. They stimulate growth, and are absorbed easily by plants. They also help the soil retain water and inhibits diseases like root rot. Worm castings also contain more than 50% more humus than what is found in topsoil.

Some of you may or may not have ever heard of fertilizing with fish emulsion. This can be purchased or you can make your own pretty easily. You can use either fresh fish, or fresh or dried kelp or seaweed. Basically how this works is you take the fish parts and put them in a 5 gallon bucket that is filled half full with sawdust, leaves, or straw and then add in some un-sulfured molasses or dry molasses powder; either one and then seal up the bucket. You let this all rot of 1-2 weeks, but be sure to open and stir daily or every other day. The molasses will help to speed up the process and control some of the odors. After the 2 weeks, dump this mixture into your compost pile. Never apply it to the plants.

If you opt to use dried seaweed or kelp you can use it to make a tea, just put it in a bucket, cover with water, and let it brew for a week and stir every few days. By the end of the week it should have a yeast smell and foamy top.  To apply you need to dilute this in a 1:5 ratio, one part tea to 5 parts water, and drench the soil near plant roots.

So now you know that container gardening is so easy to do. Just choose an appropriate container, make sure you have the right soil type, remember to consider climate and environmental factors to the placement of your containers, and choose a method for fertilizing.

Container gardening is a great method for those of us who are growing in small spaces. Even if you live in an apartment or high-rise, there are ways to be able to grow your own food. Maybe it’s not the big garden you dream about, but it is a start and you can take pride in knowing that you are making efforts toward becoming more self-sufficient.

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