Container gardening. Just have fun…

Terra Cotta Planting Container Pots
Vertical Growth habit (Urban Skyscraper) fruit tree on a patio.

“Container gardening” is really a way to garden that puts you in control of pretty much everything, and the reasons that people garden in containers are many.  Some may have soil that is not very fertile, others may have no room to plant outdoors, while still others are the daring type that want to try growing a tree or a plant that is not ‘supposed’ to work in their particular locale, needing the ability to move their plants from outside during the season to indoors in the winter; this is something you can’t do if everything you plant is, well…… in the ground.  Plant in the ground and the tree’s fate is pretty much set, but not in containers, because here the sky’s the limit as to what you can do.

Back in the day, pretty much everyone gardened in terra cotta pots.  They were attractive and relatively inexpensive and plants grew just fine, but hit one with the corner of you wheelbarrow and you know what happens next, huge crack in the pot and one more thing on your to do list, moving your tree to another container.  I’m not saying abandon clay altogether, as a neatly trimmed evergreen thriving in a terra cotta pot just screams ‘use me’ in formal planting or even Southwest garden, but they need to be far away from any traffic patter to avoid being hit.

Vertical Growth habit (Urban Skyscraper) fruit tree on a balcony.

Fast forward a few years and you will notice a much better selection of pots.  Walk into a garden center and you will see that what looks like terra cotta containers are actually plastic.  Problem solved—containers that are attractive, light weight and unbreakable, but don’t fall into the trap that you ‘need’ terra cotta because plants “breathe” better.  Not true, as most of the respiration of a plant occurs through the foliage.  If growing conditions are correct (light, soil moisture, humidity) your plant will thrive in any type of container, just get a container that suits you and your gardening style, space, and budget and go for it!  Don’t over think it.  Grab one, put in your favorite fruit tree and your harvest is now just an arm’s length away.  Take one step outside your door for a sweet and juicy peach….no more walking through the mud and dirt when you’re tired after work just to get something to eat off your very own trees.

Vertical Growth habit (Urban Skyscraper) fruit tree in an urban apartment or condo.

While talking about plastic containers, if you are looking for something just plain functional and not necessarily a blue ribbon on how well the container itself looks, consider using old nursery containers.  Pay a visit to your local garden center and offer them a $5 bill, and you’ll be amazed how many used plastic five-gallon containers you can walk out with.  Just a thought….

I mention five-gallon (or even 15 gallon) nursery containers because I remember a particular client I had from New York city.  He really wanted to grow fig trees, and I told him to go for it, as they grow fast and fruit the first season.  He only had access to the roof top, so he set up the trees on the roof where they thrived in the fresh air, plentiful sunlight and lots of heat.  With figs only hardy to around 0 degrees, he couldn’t leave them up top all winter, so he cut them to soil level and put brought them indoors where they could remain toasty warm through the cold winter months.   This would have been too difficult with heavy clay pots but was a breeze since he was using lightweight plastic.  How many people were eating fresh grown figs in New York?  Anyone willing to consider container gardening.

Vertical Growth habit (Urban Skyscraper) fruit tree on a porch.

I’ve had countless conversations with clients from coast to coast successfully growing avocado trees in places that would seem impossible.  Like the guy with the figs, grow outdoors spring through fall, bringing the trees indoors for the winter.  Just be sure your containers have drainage holes and use high quality planting mix purchased from a ‘real’ nursery if possible.  If your containerized tree is spending some time indoors, slip a nice saucer under the container to catch any water.  Choose a container that is 6-8 inches wider and about 8-10 inches deeper than the tree that you are planting.  These are just estimations, so don’t get hung up if your container is slightly larger or smaller.  You just want to avoid a container that is HUGE in proportion to the sized of the plant that you are planting.   And before you say I just want to plant it once, so I don’t have to up size again, think of this.  If you use a pot that is way too big, where will the excess water end up before it has a chance to exit the pot through the drain holes….at the bottom of the container, and if the pot is way too big, this blob of super wet soil is out of reach of the roots leading to a high probability of stinky, sour smelling soil.  In addition, such a large container is more difficult to move in and out.

Three trees in terra cotta pots.

Plants growing in containers are no different than plants outside.  Offer adequate light (unless dormant in the winter), good humidity and proper water.  Keep soil always moist, never soggy or dry.  If you pick up a pinch of soil and discern no moisture, too dry.  If you pick up a pinch of soil (unless you just watered) and can squeeze water from the soil, then too wet.   Pick up a pinch of soil and it feels moist, then just right.  Really didn’t mean to sound like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.    Think big!  Try anything!  Be creative!  Container gardening doesn’t have to be well manicured citrus trees in glazed ceramic pots surrounding an indoor swimming pool.  It can be anything that fits YOU.  It can be something as simple as a 4-inch plastic container of basil or oregano in your kitchen window sill.  Just have some fun….

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