Part of the “Adventures in Gardening” Series.
I’m a little late in the planting game to be posting about balcony gardening, I know. Think of this post, though, as a tantalizing glimpse at the amazing fun you could be having next year. Really, I’m giving you the gift of many months of anticipation, awaiting next year’s growing season. Ahem.
There are so many good reasons to grow plants in containers. Maybe you want to tend to food and flowers, but don’t have a garden or a yard of your own. Maybe you have a garden, but still want the joy and cheer of a beautiful potted plant that will lend colour and charm to the immediate view from your window. Or, maybe you just want to experience the full range of planting possibilities, and part of your green thumb project includes figuring out how plants grow in all situations, including pots and containers.
For many years, my primary source of planting joy has been growing things in containers on my deck/balcony. I now have a plot in my community garden, but I still maintain a collection of potted plants. I’ve had varying levels of ambition for my different balcony gardens. The first year I decided to grow ‘crops in pots,’ I probably ordered seeds sufficient to start a small organic farm. You’ve heard of home magazines being called house porn? Welcome to garden porn. Poring over seed catalogues is addicting, and in many ways, a reminder of the breadth of plant varieties out there. So many kinds of beans, with so many colours, and flower types, and growing styles. Each little seed has a history and a geography. It’s truly magical to plant that seed in some soil, and feel that you are doing your part to contribute to the diversity of plant life, as well as the diversity of your plate.
This year, I’ve settled on a nice combination of herbs and flowers, which would be a great and achievable project for those just starting out. I like being able to pick a handful of basil for homemade vegan pizzas, or use dill in making a quick potato salad. Plus, while we don’t often think of herbs as ornamental, they are just gorgeous. Look at this photo of beautiful dill! It’s such a cheerful and sunshine-y plant, and so easy to grow.
And really, even though ‘in the ground’ growing is generally thought of as the preferred route, growing crops in containers has numerous advantages:
- Planters create boundaries. Containers create a defined growing space (plants in the ground often have no boundaries), which can be helpful for keeping your garden neat and tidy, and for ensuring one plant doesn’t strangle another or grow invasively.
- Weed reduction. Growing in containers also limits weeds, which is highly desirable and reduces the amount of effort you need to put in to managing your garden. Weeds growing in the ground aren’t limited by anything, except, perhaps, the point in the atmosphere where oxygen ends.
- Fewer diseases and insects. Plants in containers, by virtue of location, are also less susceptible to disease, insects, and (potentially) the destructive nibbling of rabbits and deer (watch out for squirrels, though – they’ll tear out your bean plants quick as anything.)
- No crop rotation. In theory, since you are filling your containers with potting soil, and likely using new soil each year, you don’t have to worry about crop rotation. In ‘in-the-ground gardening,’ you want to ensure incompatible or nutrient-differing plants are planted in suitable and rotating plots each year, to reduce disease and promote soil health. Container gardening reduces the chances of passing a disease from one plant bed to another.
- Plants are easy to organize. When you grow things in containers, you stand a better chance of remembering what they are. I planted a patch of summer and winter squash in my community garden, but the seeds got a bit confused. The plants are growing beautifully, but do you think I can tell the summer squash from the winter squash at this stage? If I end up with some kind of butternut zucchini, it will be my own fault.
- You can tell plants from weeds. Typically, potting soil doesn’t come with many seeds for weeds, which means when you see a little green stalk emerging, you can feel confident it is the plant you intended it to be. When you are looking at a bed of soil, with numerous little green stalks coming up, it is much harder to decipher the desired plants from the undesired.
- Beauty. There are so many kinds of pots and containers out there – all shapes, sizes, and colours. You can also get creative, and reuse old vases or jars or tin buckets or tires or so on (so long as they have proper drainage). Container planting lets you express your inner artist. The cheer of looking out the window to a little sea of colours and plants that you’ve put together is powerful and soul-boosting.
So are you convinced? Have I sold you on growing plants in containers? I hope so. Look out for my next post, Part 2 of the Balcony Gardening series, coming soon. In it, I’ll cover the easiest plants to start growing and tips for success to help you on your way.
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