What is container gardening?

For those of us who spend most of their time inside, container gardening might get us back in touch with nature.
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At seven in the morning inside your apartment, your alarm clock screams in your face. After waking up sluggishly and getting ready, you head out the door to your car. On the way, a small breeze blows a sweet, earthy fragrance around you -- the trees in the apartment complex are blooming, and their new, colorful presence feels nice for a moment. But there isn't much time to enjoy this fresh growth, because you'll be late for work. Jumping in your car, you speed off to sit in traffic for a little while. Once you get to work, you'll spend a good nine hours inside and hardly leave your desk.

If you feel nature-deprived lately, you're probably not alone. Americans are finding themselves indoors more than ever before -- about 90 percent of our time is spent in homes, offices or stores, and park use is down 25 percent since the late '80s [source: Fitness Magazine]. With all this time inside, we're usually surrounded by four walls and distracted by electronics such as televisions, computers and cell phones.


But humans have a natural love for plants, animals and other living things, and scientists even have a name for this attraction: biophilia. We feel good around nature, and plants and flowers can give us a sense of calm and joy. Some people just have to be outside, and they'll make every effort they can to go to a park or go camping for a weekend.

But what about those of us with hectic work schedules and not enough time to enjoy the outdoors? One step someone with little time or green space around him can take is to partake in container gardening. A very simple practice with lots of possibilities, container gardening allows you to bring nature into your home or office, and it can turn an empty corner or a lonely porch into a beautiful spot. It's also extremely popular -- in 2003 gardeners spent $1 billion dollars on pots and container plants [source: New York Times]. But what exactly is container gardening?


Buckets, Boxes and Boots -- Anything Goes with Container Gardening

Anything that can hold soil and plants and drain water will work for container gardening. Here, a gardener displays some baskets used for gardening in the greenhouse of Glin Castle in County Limerick, Ireland.
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Anything that can hold a good amount of soil and plants and have the ability to drain water is game for container gardening. People might do it for several reasons. One is, of course, to bring nature into a place where it normally wouldn't be. Container gardening gives plants a chance to thrive indoors where they normally wouldn't and can enhance a room, deck or patio. It isn't limited to interiors, either -- a well-placed container can be the focal point of an outside garden. Planting in containers is also very flexible, and it's easy to move pots around and experiment with different combinations and placements.

Many people use ordinary pots and containers you might find at a gardening center, in materials as varied as terra cotta, concrete, plastic, metal, wood, ceramic or wire. In fact, the easiest thing to do is to buy a container plant directly from a gardening center; the job of planting is already done for you, and all you have to do is take your plant home, find a spot and care for it.


But that's really only the beginning. Some people get creative with their potting choices -- plants will grow in anything, including watering cans, tires, buckets, boxes and even boots. The size and color of the container also matters. Bigger pots require less watering, which is good for people who aren't at home often, and darker colors absorb heat and help plants grow in the summer. Warmer containers will evaporate water more easily, though, so plants will need more water in hot weather.

Keep in mind that one of the most important parts of container gardening is drainage. The container should have a hole in the bottom to let any water drain out, because excess water will harm a plant. It's common to water plants over sinks or place containers on top of trays to collect the water that seeps through.

A policeman tends the window boxes at the front of Gerald Road Police Station in London.
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The type of plants you choose will depend on where you want to place them. If you want to keep something inside that doesn't require much sunlight, plants like ferns, ivy or begonias are good choices. Plants that do well in the full sun like petunias, daisies, aloe or many types of grass would work better on a deck or patio. The soil you use also matters -- potting soil, instead of topsoil, is recommended, and sand can be added to improve drainage. It's also good to add mulch and fertilizer to the soil when necessary, and dead leaves or flower should be removed to allow the plants to grow.

Container gardening can be practical as well as aesthetically pleasing. On top of flowers and foliage, you can also plant vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and herbs into containers and add a little homegrown flavor to dinner.

For lots more information on gardening, see the next page.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • "A complete guide to container gardening." ContainerGardeningTips.com. 2006. http://www.containergardeningtips.com/
  • "Guide to container gardening." GardenGuides.com. Hillclimb Media, 2008. http://www.gardenguides.com/how-to/tipstechniques/containerindoor/container.asp
  • Jett, John. "Container gardening." West Virginia University. http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/hortcult/homegard/cntanegrd.htm