pots

If you're short on space or have physical limitations, try gardening in pots! There are as many to choose from as there are plants to grow.

The days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising and we are so anxious to get gardening, aren’t we?

What do you want to grow this year? Some good food, herbs, beautiful flowers, maybe a blueberry bush or even a small tree? But does it seem impossible because you don’t have much garden space?

We want you to know you can grow all of the above-mentioned plants and more even if you live in an apartment or a retirement community, or if you have physical limitations or are short of supplies.

Of course, we’re talking about a container garden. Growing produce in pots, fancy or simple, means everyone can enjoy a bit of gardening.

Growing in containers does take some special care, however. Let’s start with the containers themselves. We live in a desert, technically a high desert, but we have some very hot days in the middle of summer. So think big. The bigger the pot, the more soil there will be to surround the plant’s roots.

Other considerations: If you’re planning to put your containers at the entry to your home, you’ll probably want something attractive that suits the area. But, plants can’t tell what they are growing in. If you are growing vegetables on your back porch or patio, feel free to use regular 5-gallon buckets.

Do make sure all your containers have some holes in the bottom. Place them on a dish or tray. When you water and see water come out the bottom, you’ll know that the roots have received their needed moisture.

For many years we were taught to put some gravel in the bottom of any pot. But we learned that the roots of our plants go deeper and deeper and there was no way of telling how much water had stayed in the bottom of the pots. If there are no holes, you can drown a plant.

What you need to ensure drainage is something to lay over those holes so the soil doesn’t wash out and make a mess. Some people simply use coffee filters in smaller pots. We have found great success with hardware cloth, the material that your window screens are made of. It can be purchased at the hardware store or, of course, recycled from old screens. It can be easily cut with kitchen shears to fit.

Always use potting soil in your containers. “Dirt” from your yard invites pathogens into your new plantings and also many weed seeds. Be prepared to also add some fertilizer to your pots. We recommend a time-released fertilizer that can be sprinkled over the top of soil and watered in. You can find this in your local hardware store. Be sure to read the label directions to see how and when to apply.

So, what can you plant? Well, anything, providing the pot fits the needs. A nice container of herbs situated near the kitchen door is lovely, smells good, is readily available for cooking and is a magnet for pollinators when the herbs are in bloom. When the weather gets cold, you can bring that container indoors and continue to have fresh herbs all winter. Just situate them near a window, preferably with a southern exposure.

Even if you have little space, many vegetables can be grown in containers. Why not plant much of what you need for your favorite salad, including some lettuce, bunching onions and radishes? A tomato plant can be grown all by itself in a bucket. If you are really cramped for space and want flowers and food, just combine them in one pot. Easy and beautiful.

Keep in mind the needs of the plants themselves by reading the seed packets or information on labels. Plants sharing a container should have similar needs for sun, shade or water. You would not be successful trying to grow a cactus and a hosta in the same pot, for example.

At the end of the growing season, be mindful of which plants are annuals. If you have let them go to seed, you can collect, dry thoroughly and save till next season. If they are perennials, they need to be dug into the soil somewhere to save them or stored in their pots in a basement or garage to give them the best chance of growing the following season.

Also remember that the roots of your plants are the most tender part. Protect them from very cold weather.

Be creative and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

WSU Extension Master Gardener Program is an organization of trained volunteers dedicated to horticulture and community service. The Master Gardener Walk-In Diagnostic Clinic operates from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Direct questions about gardening, landscaping or this program to the Master Gardener Clinic at 509-574-1604, or leave samples for identification at the WSU Extension office. Leave a message with your name, phone number, email address and the nature of your problem or question. You can also email your questions to gardener@co.yakima.wa.us and include pictures if you have them. A member of the Master Gardener Clinic team will check voicemails and emails, and reply as soon as possible. The WSU Extension office is at 2403 S. 18th St., Suite 100, in Union Gap. Call 509-574-1600. New volunteers are welcome.