When you’re planning a container garden, everything takes on special importance, even choosing the right planters. Unlike with a garden bed (where, if you forget to water for a day or two, most things will bounce back once you get to them), when you’re container gardening or trying to work in edible landscaping on a balcony, forgetting to water for a few days can mean the end of your precious plants and fresh herbs.
Because there’s less soil, less room, and often fewer nutrients available, there’s just less room for error when it comes to successful container gardening. And, the smaller the containers you use, the less room for error you leave yourself. Even the type of pot that you use for your plants can make a considerable difference.
What Types of Containers to Use in Your Garden
When choosing pots for your garden, you’ll want to understand how pots made of different materials “behave.” Consider the following:
- Metal plant containers conduct heat, so they can get very hot in direct sunlight. Unless your plants need unusually warm soil, the heat transferred from the metal to the soil may very well be too much for them. If you have metal planters, consider keeping them in shaded areas or areas where they’re not constantly subjected to direct sunlight. Also, be aware that metals can leach into your soil and cause toxicity problems, so you may not want to use metal containers for food. And, keep a watchful eye on your moisture levels, as the heat can cause the soil to dry out quickly.
- Black plastic pots can absorb quite a bit of heat as well (more than light-colored ones at least) but not as much as metal planters. If you have them in direct sunlight, watch your moisture levels and soil temperatures to make sure they’re not too much for your plants. Black plastic pots are best for those plants that need to have their roots in dark environments or seeds that need darkness to germinate.
- Wood planters can have a lovely rustic, natural feel and look. Unfortunately, they can also provide a hospitable home for plant-damaging fungi. If you use wooden planters for herbs and other container plants, be sure to regularly check your plants and soil for fungal issues.
- Clay and terra cotta planters are popular, look great, and are pretty environmentally friendly. Unlike stone and brick planters, clay and terra cotta pots absorb water away from plant roots, however, so keep an eye out for dry soil and wilting.
- Stone and brick plant containers help stabilize soil temperatures by absorbing heat during sunlight hours and then slowly releasing it throughout the day and night. And, they do not absorb water the way terra cotta and clay pots do.
- Peat pots, although wonderfully biodegradable, are prone to damage, dry out quickly, and readily absorb water away from plant roots. They do, however, make awesome starter planters. So, if you use them to get your seeds started, you can transfer them to your garden by ripping them open or just tearing off the bottom, which lets your roots continue to grow and wander off as they will.
- Hypertufa pots (which seemed to be all the rage for awhile, and for which there is a great tutorial for here) appear to behave in a way very similar to terra cotta and clay planters.
What Size Containers to Use in Your Garden
Another thing that you will want to think about is how much root space your plants will need. For instance, if you are only planting shallow-rooted plants in containers, then you won’t need deep pots for your plants. If, however, you’re planning on growing plants with deep roots, then you’ll need big, deep planters to accommodate those long roots systems. In general:
- Shallow-rooted plants (like lettuce, spinach and radishes) need pots that are about 8″ – 12″ deep. (In fact, you can often plant radishes in containers 4″ deep without problems.)
- Moderately-rooted plants (like kale, cabbage, onions and carrots) need pots that are about 10″ – 14″ deep.
- Deep-rooted plants (like peppers and tomatoes) need pots that are at least 16″ deep. In fact, many standard-size tomato plants can have roots that grow as deep as 24″. Good news: If you’re growing a dwarf tomato that is suitable for container gardening, you can slack off with a container that’s a mere 12″ deep.
In general, check your seed packages and, if there is any information given about container growing, use that as your guide.
Using Upcycled Planters
If you’d like to add a little style and an extra punch of sustainability to your container garden, there are (literally) thousands of used items that you can salvage and repurpose to use as planters. Peek around Pinterest, Facebook or my garden Projects page and you’re likely to find dozens of ideas in just a few minutes, such as upcycling old shoes and cowboy boots, crates, old chairs, rain gutters, bathtubs, tea tins, sinks, suitcases, metal buckets, wash basins, cooking pots, watering cans, lunch boxes, old dressers, pails, jugs, tires and more.
Seriously, if you’re looking for unusual, recycled materials to use for planters, there’s no end to what you can find, make or buy. Go nuts.
One thing to keep in mind, however, if you’re going to use recycled planters for container gardening, make sure that whatever container you’re using will be safe for whatever plant you’re growing in it. For instance, you wouldn’t want to use a tire planter to grow herbs unless you put a food-safe planter inside the tire cavity and planted your herbs in there.
For more information on keeping your container garden happy and healthy, check out these articles on the nutrients in your soil and how different types of soil can affect your plants. Good luck, and if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to share!