Container gardening

Got an urge to garden, but no space? Try containers

Keys Living contributorMay 26, 2008 

When we bought our first Keys home – a condo that was part seasonal rental, part weekend getaway — gardening was out of the question. A few years later, our first Keys house came with a yard full of limestone cap rock and very little topsoil.

The good news was that the previous owner had built several plant boxes in the yard, allowing eight beautiful citrus trees to flourish where they otherwise could not have survived. The bad news was that a chainsaw crew from the state’s failed citrus canker eradication program came along one day and unceremoniously removed our trees.

But they didn’t take our plant boxes, so we quickly replaced our orange, lime and grapefruit trees with pineapples, tomatoes, mangos and flowers.

As useful as they may be, our plant boxes are not usually considered typical garden “containers.” While they do provide a place to hold soil and other nutrients, they aren’t exactly portable. That’s the key.

A garden container can be anything from a small flowerpot or hanging basket to a large urn. There are clay pots, antique pots, stone pots and pottery pots. They can be found made from metal, wood, ceramic or fiberglass.

They all share one thing in common – they can be moved.

If a hurricane approaches, plants and flowers in containers can be moved to higher ground, out of the wind. If a plant is sensitive to sunlight, its location in the yard can be adjusted between the summer and winter seasons. If your bougainvillea isn’t getting enough sun, move it. If a cold front is predicted, bring sensitive plants inside.

If the mood strikes you, redesign your garden by rearranging or replacing your container plants. If space is at a premium, try hanging baskets or shelf containers or pots mounted on pedestals or posts. Experiment with different container colors, styles, materials, sizes and soils.

By creating a kind of “microclimate” in a container, you can experiment with a variety of plants, flowers, herbs and veggies. Grow your own jalapeno peppers. Season your meals with fresh basil. Start a new coconut palm.

You can bring your garden inside – or at least into your patio or porch. Create a special centerpiece for the dining table. Anything’s possible.

Open your mind by visiting local gardens. Walk around your neighborhood for ideas. Go on a house and garden tour sponsored by your local garden club. Join a club.

And don’t be shy about asking questions. You’ll be surprised how easy container gardening can be.

Locals’ advice on container gardening

We asked some members of the Marathon Garden Club for their tips on container gardening.

  • Container gardens are perfect for condos, and can be arranged on tiers to provide an interesting small garden. Gardeners who have difficulty finding soil or building raised beds, as is so necessary in the Keys, can more easily fill containers. Lightweight pots are good for delicate or specimen plants that can be moved around the landscape depending on seasonal sunlight and weather changes. They can be moved to a garage or other protected area during hurricanes. Containers are also a better location for invasive plants, such as Sanseverria (mother-in-law’s tongue), that are desirable for flower arranging but would take over in the landscape.

    —Jeri Michalak

  • Containers provide a portable, controlled environment, which simplifies and improves the feeding and watering of plants. Another benefit is when you enter plants in a show. You just pick up the pots and go. They are “show ready.”

    — Pat Greeley

  • I use a drip system to water my garden, including the containers. It provides a slow trickle of water to each one. Emitters are color-coded to show how much water each plant is getting. A timer controls the time of day for watering. I’ve never lost a plant for lack of irrigation.

    — Pat Miola

  • I fill my containers with dirt up to two inches below the top. When I water, I fill to the top and let the water drain through into a saucer. With some plants I fill the saucer first, so the roots are trained to grow downward. I empty the saucers later so they don’t become breeding places for mosquitoes.

    — Germaine Main

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