Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Living

March 8, 2014

Cultivate your green thumb through container gardening

CHEROKEE COUNTY — Whether they're created using floral, vegetable or herbal plants, one thing is certain: Container gardening is a simple way to groom a green thumb.

“It really is very easy to grow a container garden,” said Kim Benton, horticulturist with the Cherokee County Extension Office in Rusk. “All it takes is the right container, some good soil and a commitment to water over the summer – it's not so much about patience, but keeping an eye on things, making sure the soil is not too dry or that you've developed a bug problem.”

According to research released this past June by the National Gardening Association, edible gardening – in which fruits, vegetables or herbs are planted – “has risen for six years straight and shows no signs of stopping.” An additional survey by the Garden Writers Association reported that “the number of U.S. households growing edible plants is expected to rise by 11.3 percent in 2013.”

The GWA survey also revealed that an increasing number of gardeners – challenged by growing issues such as time involvement, insect and disease control, wildlife control, irrigation and cost – turned to container gardening as an alternative.

Benton said Cherokee County residents also have shown great interest in growing their own food via container gardens.

“Last year, the vegetable container gardening program that we offered through the extension office was our most popular program, drawing about 35 people,” she said.

It also is a good way for someone to ease into gardening, Benton added.

“It's really good for people who don't have a lot of space to commit, such as people who are limited to patios for growing a garden. This is very easy, very user-friendly, just one of things that if you do it right, it will absolutely perform for you,” she said. “The key is watching for water needs and making sure it's got appropriate sun.”

Texas AgriLife Extension – which oversees county extension offices and programs – has made available a PDF brochure by extension horticulturist Joseph G. Masabni which offers detailed information about creating produce-bearing container gardens. In it, are suggested container sizes, vegetable types and how many of these plants the container will support.

The brochure also discusses growing media (soil and supplements); seeding and transplanting, along with germination and harvest charts; watering; and even the amount of sun required for optimal growing.

 “Almost any vegetable that is not large-fruited is suitable for a container – some may need a trellis, like cucumbers or small watermelons,” Benton said. “It's all about using the proper container, the proper amount of soil and a commitment to water. That's it.”

A vegetable container garden is economical “and you can't beat the taste,” she added. “And there's that sense of accomplishment that comes with 'I grew! I did it!'”

Herbs are another popular choice for container gardening, allowing growers a fresh supply of taste-enhancing seasonings.

“They are just as easy to grow in containers as anything else, and because they  are not producing fruit, their water requirement is low,” Benton explained.

“And you can certainly companion plant in a container – using both herbs and vegetables – if you have enough soil. There are so many possibilities, depending on space and sunshine.”

Tips for creating a container garden:

• Use a food-safe container that's the proper size for your project.

“You don't want to use anything that contains chemicals,” Benton said. “Just make sure it's the right size for your needs, and that it has good drainage.”

• Use clean, sterile soil.

“It's better if you use potting soil because it's lighter than the dirt you might think of digging up from your yard,” she said.

• Use proper amounts of water.

“When grown in a container, vegetables are more susceptible to drought stress because they have a more frequent need for water,” Benton said. “That can also make them more susceptible to bug problems.”

 

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