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Gardens in containers

A primer on how, what to do

Photo by J.M. Simpson

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Container gardening is one of the most effective ways to save money, grow fresh food in confined spaces and bring color to a home's landscape.

"It allows individuals the opportunity to control their environment," said Linda Snaveay, the Puyallup owner of Linda's Gardening & Hydroponics (

Simply put, container gardening uses different containers to hold flowers, herbs and vegetables. Many items can be used as containers. Old washtubs, whiskey barrels and clay pots of varying sizes make good containers.

"The use of containers allows you to control for pests and pesticides," Snaveay continued.

From a practical point of view, containers offer homeowners additional room for plants - especially for those who don't have the space for a garden.

Specific to the Pacific Northwest, there are a number of facts to keep in mind to make your container garden a success.

Sun:  Most vegetables need full sun - that means at least six hours of sunlight a day.

"It is easy to overestimate how much sun an area really gets," writes Kerry Michaels in an online column entitled, "Vegetable Container Gardening - Getting Started" on the website "Either take out your watch and time how long the sun hits the spot where you want to put your vegetable container, or use a sun calculator to get an accurate assessment."

Not only does this advice apply to vegetables, but it is also applicable to herbs, flowers and small shrubs.

Water:  This is vital - plants must have water.  That said, while plants need water, they should not be overwatered. "The goal is to keep your soil moist but not wet," Michaels continues. "To figure out if your plants need water, stick your finger down into the soil, about an inch, or up to your first knuckle.  If the soil feels dry, add water, and if you're not sure, wait and check later in the day."

As the summer progresses, container gardeners will probably have to water their gardens at least once - and maybe twice - daily.

Proper watering is the single most important action a gardener can take.

Soil:  Good planting soil is very important for all plants - especially vegetables.  However, do not use soil from your yard or garden in containers, cautions Michaels.  

"It will compact in your container and won't drain water properly," she writes.  "It also imports weeds."

Containers: As indicated, just about anything can be used as a container as long as it is large enough to support the plants and has good drainage. As a rule of thumb, the more soil a container has, the more moisture it holds.  Bigger is better.

Drainage: Make sure the container has one large hole or several small holes in order to keep plant roots from drowning.

Fertilizer:  This is a plant's food supply, and most gardeners advise using an organic granular fertilizer mixed completely into the soil.

"Start out slowly and build up to whatever size and shape you want your container garden to be," Snaveay said. "Stay simple, take your time and enjoy."

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