A garden does not have to be large even the smallest patch may do. I garden on my balcony and know the challenges you meet when growing in containers. Maybe you do not have a balcony either and think gardening is out of reach. But why not try to grow your own kitchen herbs? You can enjoy the pleasant scent while harvesting and of course use them in your cooking. Put the herbs in a light window sill or on the kitchen counter with a LED grow light above.
Since I have a small balcony garden I will focus on container gardening in this post. If you want to find out more about gardening in large-scale I suggest you visit Garden and Gardening or Garden Matter. So back on track. I told you there are some challenges included in container gardening. Here are six things to consider when starting a container garden:
- Too much water
- Too little water
- Going on a vacation
Maybe I scared you of container gardening by listing these challenges. But every obstacle have a way around and I will tell you how to overcome the hard parts.
1. Adding too much water is actually more common than too little. It is easy to overdo it leading to suffocation of the roots, which needs oxygen to support the green parts. There are two easy ways to know if it is time to water your plants. The first one – stick a finger straight down in the soil. How does it feel and look? This gives you a clue – dry means water it and moist means let it be. The second, feel the weight of the container by lifting it up. This is of course only applicable on small containers. If it feels light give it water and if it feels heavy do not. Never put soil in the whole container always add gravel or likewise in the bottom. Make sure there is a drainage where access water can leak out.
2. Too little water can be managed in several ways. First of all the larger the container is the more water it holds. The material of the container also matters where cast iron easily gets heated up causing the soil to dry. Terracotta sucks water out of the soil making it dry faster. Before putting soil in and planting in a terracotta container be sure to soak it in water. You can put the container in a bucket of water for an hour or more while attending other chores. Put in or make a water storage in the bottom of the container. Make sure the roots reach the water. To minimize evaporation leave no open soil make sure the plants quickly cover it up or put some gravel on top.
3. When gardening in an enclosed and small space like a container nutrients can be a problem. You do not want to give the plant too much or too less. This is why you have to know what kind of plant you grow. Is it a hungry one or more modest in its cravings. You may also gain from learning how to read the plant by watching the colors of the leaves etc. Plants do talk – in a sort of body language. I use a method called micro-nurishing where I add small quantities of nutrients every time I water my plants. This way I avoid nutrients from leaking out in the environment. And not over-feeding the plants which often results in less yield of fruits and flowers.
4. When picking a soil to use in containers there are two main concerns – water and oxygen. You want a soil with good drainage and ability to hold much air. A good soil contains different particle sizes creating microscopic air pockets. When watering a good soil the water soaks into it in a descent pace. Not staying on top or running straight through. When dry It should be light and fluffy. High quality compost and gravel are two components you may use to create a good soil. Change the soil every year/season to avoid pests and diseases. And clean the containers before using them again.
5. Space both for you and the plants is needed. In my eyes a balcony is double pleasure – gardening and relaxing. We often have our meals on ours during the summer which we treasure. Planning is therefore necessary. Make room for a table and some comfy chairs. Different plants have different requirements. The root system varies some plants go deep others shallow the size of the container should be chosen to fit the plants needs. In small spaces vertical gardening is a great solution.
6. Going on a vacation during the season can be difficult if you want your plants to survive. The optimal is to have a plant watcher taking time to care for your plants while you are gone. Protect the plants from the mid-day/noon sun. Use some kind of watering system like the classic string or a upside-down bottle, which provides the plant with water when needed. Choose draught tolerant species.
In Sweden we have regulations about gardening on the balcony. There are two important things to consider. Never hang flower containers on the outside of the balcony. They can fall down on people passing by. Ask your landlord if there are any weight limits for the balcony. The construction can be weak or have a safety guidance. In Sweden the maximum weight per square meter is 100 kilograms including yourself. So take that into account when purchasing containers, decorations and furniture. A last advice – think of your downstairs neighbors when watering or cleaning on your balcony.
The reason I have not told you what to grow or not is because it depends on where you live and the conditions on your balcony. Ask your neighbors or a local nursery what they recommend. And do some research online. Please share your experiences by leaving a comment.
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