Container Gardening for Beginners, Part 1: What to Consider

  Lavender makes a beautiful container plant

Lavender makes a beautiful container plant

 

So you'd like to try your hand at gardening? Wonderful!

But maybe you're not quite ready to commit to building a raised bed or digging up your lawn? The solution: container gardening!

Container gardening is a great way to take baby steps into the world of gardening. Small commitment, easy to look after, and the potential to have wonderful fresh veggies, flowers, and herbs right outside your door. No more buying a whole package of herbs just to use a few sprigs! 

  Beneficial insects will help you with the undesireables

Beneficial insects will help you with the undesireables

 

 

Container gardens are also less prone to insect infestation, especially from ground-dwelling friends. And pots are moveable! If you or the plants don’t like where they’re growing, you can push or pull them to happiness.

So where to begin? The first step is to consider the season. In SoCal we have two: one month of winter, and the rest is summer. 

 

  Calendula doesn't mind cooler temperatures

Calendula doesn't mind cooler temperatures

 

This is how it breaks down:

Winter (and surrounding months of summer-like weather) = greens (lettuce, spinach, chard, collards), peas, herbs (not basil, sorry), some flowers (cosmos, calendulas, zinnias, sweet peas), root vegetables (carrots, beets, potatoes), strawberries*, more greens.

Summer = tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash*, melons*, herbs, any flowers.

* Melons and squash need a very large container, can be difficult to grow, and are prone to insect troubles; I would try something easier to start. Strawberries are also difficult to grow here, so I would try something else first.

  Cabbages are a risky bet in SoCal

Cabbages are a risky bet in SoCal

 

There are some veggies that simply aren't suited to our growing climate, even in the winter. I put most brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) in this category, as our winters are often too warm. They also don't make a lot of sense for containers, as they take up a lot of space and you only get one vegetable. Better to use that space for greens, which will continue to grow through the whole season if you only pick the outer leaves. 

 

  Lettuce and other greens grow well in containers and don't mind some shade

Lettuce and other greens grow well in containers and don't mind some shade

So, next step is to consider your light, as in how much sun hits your growing space.

If you have partial sun (4-6 hours a day) or shade (less than 4 hours), then your options are somewhat limited. In general, greens and herbs prefer partial sun, and can even grow in less light than that. Greens are great in winter months, as the weather (should be) cool enough that they won't bolt (grow flower stalks), as they will in the summer. In the summer, herbs are great in partial sun or even mostly shade.

Full sun (6+ hours) in the summer lets you grow vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, but this can mean scorching. You may find yourself looking for partial shade for the hottest part of the day, or creating it with shade cloth. 

  Tall plants like peas will need some support, especially if they're growing in an exposed spot affected by wind

Tall plants like peas will need some support, especially if they're growing in an exposed spot affected by wind

Another factor is wind exposure. If you plan to garden in a spot that is exposed to our strong Santa Ana winds, be prepared to protect any taller plants, especially tomatoes and peas. You can stake them or have a very sturdy trellis.

Next time we’ll talk about plant selection, so stay tuned!

Resources:

http://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2015/03/10_tips_for_growing_herbs_in_p.html

http://skinnygourmet.blogspot.com/2008/05/ten-mistakes-new-herb-gardeners-make.html