Planters — published on May 7, 2008

Growing Plants in Containers

Tiny yard, or no yard at all? No problem. Try these techniques to add a little greenery to your outdoor space.

Even if you have some yard space, you might not have enough for a garden. Growing plants in containers might be a solution.

Give Your Plants Their Space

Use big enough containers that your plants will have plenty of room to grow. Ask your local nursery how much soil each plant will need. Although scientists have developed vegetables that don’t require as much growing space, some still need a lot of soil. For example, you would need at least a 19-liter container for a single tomato plant.

Stick to Potting Soil

Use potting soil in your containers rather than soil from the ground. Potting soil is lighter, drains better, and is sterilized to kill weed seeds and diseases that could hurt your plants.

Find the Right Fertilizer

Use a slow-release fertilizer in pellet form. Since you need to water container plants frequently, a regular fertilizer would tend to wash right out of the soil. But in pellet form, one application will release the plant food slowly and last for several months.

Don’t Drown Your Plants

Don’t over-water your plants. Make sure that you thoroughly soak the entire container each time you water, but pour away any extra water that fills the saucer underneath the container. Making the plant sit in water encourages root rot. Since the signs of rot include wilting, many people think that the plant needs more water, which does even more damage. If you’re not sure whether the wilting is from too much or too little water, gently pull the plant up out of the container. If the roots are brown and slimy, it’s root rot. Water it less.

Use Baskets and Plastic Pots

Even if you’re in a high-rise apartment and live far above the nearest soil, let alone gardening space, you can still grow plants in containers and hanging baskets.

Keep Watering in Mind

In high-rise buildings, balconies can get extremely hot and dry from sunlight reflected off the building, so you may need to water your plants every day. Since you’ll probably be carrying water from your sink or tub faucet, keep this chore in mind when you’re planning how many plants to grow.

Pick Plastic Pots

Use plastic pots rather than clay pots. Plants in plastic dry out less quickly because the pots aren’t porous like clay ones. Put 5 centimeters of an organic mulch on top of the soil in the container to reduce water evaporation from the soil.

Hang Smart

When you’re planning for hanging baskets, consider how you’re going to water them. Can you safely stand on a step stool and water with a watering can? Will you get tired of taking the basket down to water it frequently?

Add Water Releasing Crystals

If you travel a lot, and are worried about your plants, a fast, affordable, and practical solution is to stock up on little crystals that soak up and then gradually release water. Specific brands include Water Crystals and WaterSmart Crystals, which are sold by garden centers. When you add water to these polymer granules, they absorb many times their weight in water. By mixing them in with the soil in your plants’ containers and then watering, the crystals soak up and then slowly release the water to keep your plants watered while you’re gone.

Be sure to follow directions on the label, because putting more crystals in a container is not necessarily better. Since they expand when wet, too many crystals can swell up and damage your plant or push it out of the pot.