Gardening without a Garden

Gardening without a Garden

Tue, 09 Jul 2019

Want to be more self-sufficient, eat organically and help the environment, or do you simply yearn for a more welcoming balcony?

Home gardening has many positives and you needn’t own a big back yard to enjoy the benefits of your green thumb - container gardening can be cost-effective, diverse and infinitely scalable. It’s a terrific way for new gardeners to get their start!

Let’s explore the many benefits and some easy tips to pot plant success.

BEFORE YOU START
Plants need light, water and soil to grow. For successful container gardening, choose a spot that is protected from the harshest elements, yet still gets plenty of sunlight each day. Placing plants along a wall, hedge, fence or screen can be a good way to give protection and take up as little space as possible. Smaller plants can be moved to chase the sun or be protected from high winds. Think outside the box - vertical gardens can make the most of small spaces while getting maximum sun and creating a stunning backdrop!
If keeping plants watered during the day is a problem, look for sites that receive morning sun but get shaded during the hottest part of the day, even if you're growing plants for full sun. Afternoon shade will reduce the amount of moisture plants need.
Don’t be afraid to mix flowers, herbs and vegetables. This is a great way to have both beauty and flavour on your patio, deck or balcony. In fact, companion planting is a way of combining compatible plants for mutual benefits. For example, marigolds are well known to help ward pests off from salad vegetables and tomatoes.
Flowering plants attract bees, whose pollen-collecting activities will help your plants to thrive!
When planting vegetables, for best results choose a spot that will receive around six hours of sun each day.
As your plants grow, ensure they are properly supported. Provide stakes for tall-growing plants like tomatoes, peas and beans and for climbing / trailing plants such as ivy, jasmine and climbing roses.

CONTAINERS
The vessels containing your plants can be as varied as the plants themselves. Almost anything with water drainage can be used, but consider the full-grown size of the plant when choosing your pot. You won’t want to be re-potting very often, it can be tricky and many plants don’t react well to having their roots disturbed. That said, avoid planting baby plants in huge pots as well. Let them get well established in smaller pots before planting out in a large container.
Good drainage is essential for a plant’s survival. The correct mix of soil contributes to even drainage, as do the drainage holes in your container, which should be well spaced and clear of blockages. Few plants can survive without drainage holes, so it’s best to make a rule of always having plenty of drainage capacity.
Keep in mind that it's easier to grow plants in large containers than small ones. That's because large containers hold more soil, which stays moist longer and resists rapid temperature fluctuations. Small hanging baskets are especially prone to drying out, and during hot weather you may have to water plants twice a day to keep them alive.
Since containers are heavy once they're filled with soil, decide where they’ll be located and move them into position before filling and planting.

SOIL
A plant won’t grow to its full potential in potting soil alone. It needs compost and organic fertiliser to be really happy. Garden soil can harbour weeds and pests and is usually too dense to provide a suitable environment in a pot, so leave garden soil in the garden where it belongs. Invest in a quality potting mix that holds moisture, yet provides adequate drainage. We suggest you mix half potting mix with half compost then add fertiliser as recommended by the manufacturer. NB. Often, commercial potting mixes will include slow-release fertiliser. In this case, wait one month before applying a weak solution of fertiliser.
Organic fertiliser will give your plants more than food alone. It will help to build a happy soil biology that will make your plants grow strong and stay healthier longer.

WATER
Watering is a top priority with container plants. Over- or under-watering can be the biggest problem to overcome in your pot plant garden.
When a plant is potted in a small container, it will dry out a lot quicker than it would in a large pot or in the ground. This is because there is little soil to hold extra moisture.
Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry, doing your watering early morning or in the evening to give your plants the best chance at taking up and utilising the water. Water the soil, being sure to avoid contact with the leaves which can be ‘burnt’ by water when they are hot from the sun, or during the evening damp leaves can be susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew. Once the water has absorbed, water the soil again a couple of times allowing the excess to run out the drainage holes. This shows you have moistened the potting mix, top to bottom, encouraging a robust root system to develop.
Note that a small pot with a large plant may need to be watered several times a day during hot weather.
Extend the time between waterings with the help of self-watering pots with built-in reservoirs that provide water to the plants as the soil dries.
Use a saucer in summer to catch excess water that the plant may then re-absorb when it needs it - though be careful to ensure that your plant doesn’t get ‘wet feet’ from sitting for long periods in water during rainy seasons.

THE THRILLER, FILLER, SPILLER METHOD
This provides an easy guideline for choosing plants to combine in a container, to stunning effect. It translates to at least one focal-point plant (the thriller) - something with height, drama or a special attraction like variegated leaves.
‘Spiller’ plants are to be placed at the edges to spill over and create a trailing effect. Choose ivy, alyssum, daisies or lobelia.
Finally, add the fillers, which are plants with smaller leaves and flowers that add colour and fill in the arrangement all season long. Good fillers include salvias, verbenas, begonias and ‘potted colour’, as well as foliage plants like parsley and other herbs. What a fabulous way to get the best of both worlds, beauty and sustenance!

EDIBLE PLANTS THAT THRIVE IN CONTAINERS
• Beans  • Capsicums • Courgette • Cucumber • Herbs • Leafy greens • Lettuce • Peas • Potatoes • Radish • Tomatoes

Dwarf fruit trees are available in varieties such as Apple, Apricot, Blueberry, Feijoa, Guava, Peach, Nectarine and many citrus varieties. These will grow well in large pots and you have the advantage of taking them with you if you move to another property.

If you’re inspired to start gardening, take a look at our article on creating a gardening hub in your garage.

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