OYO: Planting your garden in a container

You know it's springtime when the garden center pops out of the parking lot at your neighborhood Lewis store. This week our yard and garden expert, Lewis lawn and garden manager Doug Schroeder, has some tips for container gardening.

Gardening in containers is easy and fun.

Doug says that container gardening is, basically, putting your plants anywhere that is out of the ground. Large pots, raised gardens, even a horse watering trough will work for a container garden. Container gardening gives you an opportunity to be creative.

The biggest issue most people have with container gardening is making sure that the container is big enough.

Doug says, "too many people use containers that are too small and there just isn't enough soil mass for the vegetable or whatever you're growing to survive. If you use something that's large, not only do you have plenty of room for your plant you can also combine things in the same pot."

It's very important that your container has appropriate drainage. Make sure that there are holes in the bottom of your pots and, if the holes are small, you may want to put some larger rocks in the bottom of the pot before you add the potting soil. That will help with drainage.

You can grow many different kinds of vegetables in containers. Doug says that tomatoes work very well in containers. You can plant just about any variety of tomato in a container. Basil and oregano are great companion plants and work well in the same container with tomatoes. You can create a small herb garden in the same pot as your tomato plants.

If you do plant tomatoes in a container, it will need a cage or something to support it as it grows.

One of the biggest benefits to container gardening is that the containers are often mobile. If there's a late frost in the spring or an early frost in the fall, you have the option to move the plant into the garage. If you discover that your plant isn't getting enough sunlight, you can move it to a place where it gets more direct sun.

In addition to being mobile, container gardens require less maintenance, you're not you not breaking up your yard, and weeding is easier. One thing you will have to do more often is water the plants. Also, because you are running so much water through the container, many of the nutrients will quickly be washed out. Doug recommends fertilizing once every two weeks.

If you're going to plant the same type of vegetable in the container that you planted last year, Doug suggests completely replacing the soil in that container. If you are going to plant a different vegetable in that container, it is okay to keep the old soil as long as you mix in some new soil.

Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries also work well in containers. Be sure to pay attention to any special needs that the plant might have. For instance, blueberries like more acidity in the soil. If you have blueberries, you should use fertilizer specially designed for acid-loving plants. Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are perennials which means they will come back each year, but the containers should be kept in the garage or shed over the winter.

One final note for this week: Whether you planting in the ground or in a container, be sure to pay attention to how hardy your plants are. Doug says that one of the biggest mistakes people make is planting too early. Some plants and vegetables can handle frost, others cannot. Doug has created a chart that tells you how hardy different plants are. You can download that chart by clicking the link to the right.

This tomato cage folds up, making it easy to store in the winter.