Welcome back, aspiring container gardeners! In case you missed it, last month I shared about the planning phase of container gardening, so now it’s time to talk about planting. If you’re a perfectionist (ahem, something I know nothing about), putting plants into soil can feel a bit intimidating. But never fear, reader dear! I’m here to guide you through the process.
Now, I’m not an expert, by any means. This is my first year gardening at all, let alone container gardening, but I spent a lot of time reading books and websites and seed packets trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. I also wasted a lot of minutes hurrying back into my house or off to the store because I’d forgotten something I needed. I’d like to save you that time by compiling everything I’ve learned into a series of posts. If you have any feedback, please let me know!
So here’s what you’ll need to do:
Gather Your Supplies
These will include:
For most vegetables and some herbs, you’ll want self-watering containers. Vegetables need tons of water, especially in the heat of summer, and watering a traditional container often enough will wash out all of the nutrients. It will also create alternating wet and dry containers that stress plants out. Your vegetables will grow far better with the steady water supply a self-watering container provides. Luckily they aren’t much different in price from regular containers. I love these big, 20″ x 24″ ones from Patio Pickers, they’re what you’ll see in the pictures throughout these posts.
For smaller plants, these containers from Bloem are nice.
A hose or full watering can
If the area you’re planting in doesn’t have hose access (balcony’s come to mind), you’ll want a watering can with a narrow spout so that it’s compatible with the container’s watering tube. I have two different ones – one for my big Patio Pickers containers, and one to fit into the little pocket on the bottom of small self-watering containers.
Measuring cups and spoons
Having a dedicated set for gardening will save you some headaches. It’s cheap enough to be worth it.
These will be helpful for opening packaging.
NOT potting soil. What’s the difference? Potting soil has dirt in it. It ends up getting too waterlogged and compact, which doesn’t work so well for container gardening, especiall in self-watering containers. A good potting mix will include spaghum peat, coir, vermiculite, perlite, and or compost. You don’t want forest biproducts or composted forest materials to be the main ingredients. Here’s one option.
This is also called garden lime or agricultural lime. It often has hydrangeas on the packaging because it’s used to turn hydrangeas from blue to pink (plant science is magical, y’all).
A dry, granular fertilizer is what we want here. Choose one that is NOT time released.
Seeds or seedlings
If you want to save money, seeds are the way to go. I went with seedlings instead for two reasons: 1) It’s my first year gardening, and I was too chicken to plant from seeds and 2) I started planting a little bit late – mid-May – but still wanted cool season crops like spinach and peas.
Prep the container
Remove any labels or price stickers now, because they’ll be a beast to remove after they’ve been exposed to water and sun. Remove any packaging.
Assemble container parts, if applicable. For the Patio Pickers containers, this just means popping the wheels in the bottom, placing the screen that will separate soil and water, and putting the watering tube in the correct corner.
Add Moist Potting Mix
If you don’t have a yard, you probably don’t have a wheelbarrow either, so you’ll need to wet the soil inside of the container. I recommend adding 2 inches or so of potting mix and then mixing a bit of water at a time to it until it’s moist, but not soggy. Then add more soil and repeat until you’re about two inches from the top.
Don’t skip this step! Getting the potting mix wet might seem like a wasted step when you’re going to add water to the reservoir later, but if you put that water into a container with dry potting mix, the bottom part of mix with soak up water like a sponge instead of spreading it throughout. Your plants will have a hard time reaching the water and air they need.
Spread a thin layer (about two cups) of dolomite evenly over the potting soil.
Add Potting Mix
Fill almost to the top, leaving about a half inch of space.
Create troughs for the fertilizer. The number and layout of the troughs will depend on how many plants you’re adding, but you’ll want each plant to be next to a trough of fertilizer or between two.
Fill the troughs with a total of 3 cups of organic fertilizer.
Cover the fertilizer and fill the box to the top with potting mix.
The packaging they come in will offer some guidelines for planting space, but I recommend reading up on Square Foot Gardening to maximize the number of vegetables you can plant.
If planting seedlings, dig holes roughly the depth and diameter of the pack they’re in. Space out the holes before planting anything to ensure things are evenly spaced. Remove the plant from is pack and gently loosen the roots. Place in the hole and mound potting mix over it until secure, but avoid placing soil higher on the plant than it was in its pack.
You may want to water your plants traditionally for a week or so, giving the root systems a chance to establish.
Fill the Reservoir
Fill it completely with water every day. In the height of summer, you may need to water some plants morning and night. You’ll know the reservoir is full when water drips out of the holes on either side of the container about two inches up from the bottom.
Depending on the weather, it might take a week or two, but you should notice growth quite quickly. Take pictures now so that you’l really be able to notice the progress your plants are making.
Til next time, apartment homesteaders!