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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CONTAINER GARDENING

BY DEAN ROWLAND | PHOTOS SUPPLIED 

The greening of the Lowcountry in early spring invites dreaming about gardening and the bounty of fruits, vegetables and flowers the soil provides.

But there is an alternative to getting down and dirty and contending with insects, weeds, poor soil and the investment of time, risks and expense outside: container gardening.

“You can grow anything in a container, from blueberries to lemons to oranges,” said owner Ellen Heron of Potted Heron in Bluffton. “It just depends on how much space you have available.”

The other ingredients to healthy container gardening are “good soil, fertilization and regular watering,” Heron said. “The container is really important too. Light is the biggest factor so plants can grow.” 

AMONG SOME CONTAINER OPTIONS ARE:

  • Standard containers: The plastic garden boxes and pots at a garden store come in a variety of sizes and are built with drainage and room for plants to grow. Keep in mind that dark-colored vegetable garden boxes absorb more heat and dry out soil quickly. Clay pots are not an issue.
  • Mason jars: These are a perfect choice for rooting most herbs from cuttings.
  • Window boxes: These are adaptable to your vertical vegetable garden design ideas and can be modified to fit your space and needs.
  • Deck rail planters: Herbs thrive in shallow containers that come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and styles. Some fit over a rail and others hang from the rail.
  • Hanging baskets: When plants grow upward, they enhance the growing space and keep critters away.
  • Fabric grow bags: This porous fabric produces dryer soil near the edges, allowing more contact with the air. Once the roots reach the dry soil, they stop growing.

Heron discourages using terra cotta containers because they absorb water. Her go-to container is EarthBox, which features a built-in reservoir for water.

She only has to water her herbs and tomatoes weekly, which is a bonus in the Carolina heat. This container gardening system is low maintenance, sustainable, portable and controls soil conditions. Roots grow downward instead of spreading out in search of water.

“Which means you can fit more in a smaller area,” she said. You can grow two tomatoes in one EarthBox.

To eliminate waterlogged soil and wilting plants, make sure the container includes drainage holes.

Container gardening requires little or no garden space and can produce a variety of crops. Soil should be tested before planting to determine the pH content for nutrients and fertilized regularly.

Heron recommends Espoma soil and organic fertilizer for gardening. The company was founded in 1929 and produces more than 70 organic products.

Happy Frog potting soil is designed for container gardening and its microbes improve root efficiency and nutrient uptake. It contains earthworm castings, bat guano and aged forest products. In a container with several plants, it’s a good idea to select one as the focal point to add drama to the display.

The only tools needed for container gardening are a hand trowel for mixing soil, digging holes and transplanting seedlings. A pruner helps trim woody stems and small branches, and micro-tip scissors snip leaves and flowers. The soil and weather conditions in the Lowcountry are conducive to growing fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“Down here we have a year-round crop season,” Heron said. “You can grow any leafy green all year long.”