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Not everyone has room in their garden to grow vegetables or indeed has a garden at all. It is possible to grow vegetables and salads in pots and containers on a balcony, windowsill or simply on steps or in hanging baskets. Vegetables can be as pretty as flowers and they add a very different dimension to the range of plants that you can grow in containers. Mix them in with other planting or simply have a mixture of vegetables, salad and herbs in the same pot.
There are many benefits to growing plants in containers as well as a huge range of containers to choose from. If plants are grown in pots they can be situated close by and this makes them easier to manage and care for, keeping a close eye out for pests and diseases.
Plants that need differing soil conditions can also grow happily next to each other in containers where it would not be so easy in the vegetable garden. Plants with specific needs such as moisture loving tomatoes and drought tolerant herbs can live next to lime-loving kale or cabbage as well as acid loving cranberries. The range is enormous. You can grow acid loving blueberries in special ericaceous compost. Containers also allow you to grow plants greedy for moisture such as courgettes and cucumbers. Using containers you can regulate watering and customise the growing medium dependent on the individual plants needs.
Growing in containers also offers much flexibility, they can fill awkward spaces, can be moved around, grouped according to the planting arrangement and if you are growing plants which have finished you can simply move the pot out of sight and replace with another which is in full flow. Pots can be placed in borders or used to fill out blank areas in the garden, or in difficult places under hedges or in dark dank areas!
There is a huge range of containers to choose from, terracotta, glazed terracotta, plastic as well as reclaimed and galvanised, metal, fibreglass, stone and timber. Generally it is best to stick to similar types of pots in groups or it can end up looking too busy. Different shapes and sizes are also an important factor in deciding what to use. Choose compost that also suits the type of growing you are going to do. Soil based composts are best suited to fruit trees and shrubs as they hold moisture and nutrients for longer and as they are fairly weighty help to keep the pot heavy and stop things blowing away in the wind! It’s a good idea to mix in some perlite or other aerating material that will aid drainage. Multipurpose compost is suitable for more temporary plantings such as salads or annuals but they only contain enough nutrition for around six weeks and as they are lightweight tend to dry out easily and need a lot of watering which also washes the nutrients away more quickly. Ericaceous compost is suitable for lime and acidic loving plants including blueberries and cranberries, if these are planted in normal soil they go yellow and end up dropping dead. You can mix up your own compost using water retaining granules, sand for drainage, perlite or vermiculite for aeration as well as slow release fertiliser. This mix would make moving containers more practical as they would be less heavy which would be useful in a balcony situation or on a roof garden or somewhere the pots are less transportable.
All the usual rules apply with container growing. Deadheading is key as this encourages growth, checking out for pests and diseases, keeping good garden hygiene by removing dead leaves and other bits and pieces to keep the area clean, pruning and watering, training and supporting. Mulching the tops of your containers will also be beneficial, there is also a lot to choose from, including slate chippings, pebbles, gravel, bark, cocoa shells, pine cones, crushed sea shells, crushed glass. The mulch will retain moisture, suppress weeds as well as help keep the roots cool. They can also be highly ornamental and attractive and add to the colours of the plants. Putting grey chipped slate around Lavender looks really good and it is worth trying different variations. All of this is fairly basic care but will keep your containers in tip-top condition.
Many of the most useful culinary herbs can grow better in containers. Plant them in amongst salads and annual flowers. Rosemary and Sage are evergreen and will give an all year round supply of herbs for cooking. Use your imagination and throw out the rule-book, it’s worth experimenting with different variations to find the ones you like the most.