container gardening

The Container Grocery Store

The Container Grocery Store

Whether you’re a young couple that’s just starting out or a couple facing retirement, you know that you often have to stretch your budget to cover all of your expenses. You may need to move to larger accommodations, there’s furniture to buy, there may be student loans or a wedding to pay off. Well, you can cut a lot out of your budget, but everyone needs food to live that’s one cost you can’t eliminate. However, you can make a dent in your grocery bills by growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs in containers.

Containers are great because you can use them whether you’re living in an apartment or a house; plants will do just fine in containers perched on balconies or sitting on patios. Just make  sure to put them in a location where they’ll get as much sun as possible; vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day to develop properly, and herbs need five. A south-facing location is best, but if that’s not possible, a west-facing one is almost as good.

Vegetables growing on east- and north-facing balconies and patios will still provide some produce, but the yields won’t be as high. Herbs growing indoors should be cultivated close to the windows that get the most sunshine; it’s also important to grow them in high-humidity areas, like the kitchen.

Choosing the right pot is crucial. For vegetables, I never use pots smaller than 25 cm wide for container vegetable gardening; 30 cm wide is preferable. These plants need space to grow, and pots smaller than this just don’t provide enough volume. For materials, I prefer glazed ceramic, plastic, or fibreglass; all hold water well and are easier to handle than clay pots. Large hanging baskets and troughs are good choices for patio or balcony vegetable gardening, too; even whiskey half-barrels will work. I’ve seen people use all kinds of cheap but effective containers—old milk cans, toilets, bathtubs, trash cans, even washing machines. Just make sure that whatever container you choose has enough volume to provide the plant with enough room to grow. Herbs can be grown in pots that are slightly smaller, though; feel free to keep them in the 10 or 15 cm pots that you buy them in for a while. When they’re big enough, move them to larger pots or a trough. You can plant more than one plant in a large pot; stuffing half a dozen herbs into a 30 cm container or a long trough would be a fine way to grow them, as long as you’re careful not to mix aggressive herbs with the less competitive varieties.

Potting soil is the root medium of choice for potted plants, chiefly because it doesn’t compact like garden soil does—potted plants need rich, well-drained soil to promote healthy root growth. Potting soil has another advantage: it’s free of the soil-borne diseases and insect pests common to regular garden soil. I incorporate a controlled, time-release 14-14-14 fertilizer that will feed the plant for many weeks. This non-leaching fertilizer becomes a reservoir backup that prevents the plants from yellowing and cuts down on maintenance.

I always say that watering is the most important job a gardener has to do. It’s a simple task, but that doesn’t mean that it can be done without thought. Since containers can’t hold much water, you may need to soak your plants twice a day during heat waves—once, thoroughly, in the early morning and once more, if needed, in the evening. Hanging baskets should be checked more often for moisture; the wind can dry them out quickly. To seal in moisture and keep down weeds, you can cover the soil with a mulch of shredded bark. As for fertilizer—I usually just add a pinch of 20-20-20 to the pot each time I water and give the plants a heavier feeding once a week. All vegetables need these extra nutrients, especially heavy feeders like tomatoes and cucumbers, so don’t skimp.

Speaking of tomatoes and cucumbers, just what kinds of plants should you be growing in containers? I’ve drawn up a list, and there are a couple of products that merit special attention.

The first of these is mesclun. This is a mixture of “instant salads” created by the French that’s really catching on in North America. The idea is wonderfully simple: a number of different greens are grown together in one pot. Sound complicated? It isn’t. All you have to do is buy a packet of mesclun seed, sow into a container, and watch the greens spring up. Every two or three weeks, when the plants reach a few inches in height, all you have to do is take a pair of scissors out, cut off the greens, and throw them into a salad bowl. You should leave about two inches of growth in the pot, since mesclun can be harvested several times. Over the course of a growing season, you can expect to harvest five or six meals—meals big enough to feed three or four people, so plan to invite another couple over each time you harvest.

The second item of note is the potato barrel, a British invention that I think is the best way to grow container potatoes. It’s a Victorian style barrel made of polymer with sliding “windows.” Instead of digging up the soil to harvest the potatoes, all you need to do is slide open a window, reach in, grab the spuds, and slide the window shut. Sweet potatoes or other tubers can be grown in this innovative device, too.

There are other benefits to growing your own vegetables. For one thing, there’s something very arresting about vegetables growing in containers; they make great conversation pieces, especially for repeat visitors who can see the plants slowly come to fruition. Plants like cucumbers have long vines that can be trained to grow around balcony railings, adding some life to your apartment.

If you’re really adventurous, you can try growing peanuts on your balcony, or figs, dwarf lemons or limes, or even coffee indoors. These are novelty crops—you’ll be lucky to grow enough beans for one cup of coffee, for example—but they’re fun to have around. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourselves, whatever you choose to grow.

Vegetables (and one fruit) That Grow Well in Containers

Cucumbers
Tomatoes
Potatoes
Eggplant
Leaf lettuce
Spinach
Peppers
Beans
Garlic
Mesclun
Bush-type melons (in large patio containers only)
Strawberries

Herbs That Grow Well in Containers
Basil
Chives
Marjoram
Oregano
Thyme

Try growing oregano, marjoram, thyme, and chives in the same container as your tomatoes—these plants grow quite well together, and broiled herb tomatoes make a delicious snack.

Edible Flowers That Grow Well in Containers

Pansies
Nasturtiums
Daylily flowers—especially new multiple blooms, e.g. Stella d’Oro

The Black Thumb's Guide to Containerized Vegetables

The Black Thumb’s Guide to Containerized Vegetables

By Earl J. Woods

Using Your Imagination

Some culinary containers can get pretty wild—you’re not limited to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and the other standard vegetable crops. While working on Herbs and Edible Flowers in 1999, we mixed edible nasturtiums, fuchsias, parsley, calendula and pansies in one huge hanging basket. It looked and smelled great, and provided plenty of flowers for garnishes and salads. 

I confess. Even though I’ve been working at Hole’s for almost four years, I’m still not a successful gardener. In fact, if I were a comic book super villain, I’d have to use the name “The Black Thumb,” malicious murderer of all things green and growing.

But as a thirty-something bachelor who usually alternates between pizza, cold cereal and microwave dishes, I do appreciate the fresh vegetables that Mom and Dad bring from their bountiful garden. A steady diet of fast food will numb your taste buds as quickly as it expands your waistline, and biting into one of Mom and Dad’s tomatoes is an all too rare treat.

So I’ve made a resolution—I’m going to start growing my own vegetables in balcony containers. One of the advantages of working at Hole’s is that I have a good head start on how to proceed.

Rule One: ­­­Big Pots

Lois Hole drilled into my head a very important rule of container gardening: always, always, always use large pots. The bigger the container, the more space there is for water, soil and roots. That’s not to say that you can’t grow a perfectly good pepper plant or two in a 25- cm pot, but for really impressive yields, go for the large pots.

Rule Two: Good Soil

Always use the best quality potting soil, never garden soil. Quality potting soils are free of weeds, pests and the most serious diseases. They are light and easy to use. Garden soils are much too heavy, and get compacted easily (besides, living in an apartment, I would have to steal garden soil from someone’s yard in the dead of night. It’s far less of a hassle to buy a bag of the good stuff).

Rule Three: Grow What You’ll Use

Any singles attempting to change their lifestyles must know their limitations. I love potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, so it makes perfect sense to pick up tubers and seeds for these. On the other hand, the only use I’d ever have for eggplant (gag) would be to toss it off my balcony at innocent bystanders below.

Start small. There’s no sense in growing far more than you can use. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with growing extra produce to donate to charities or local food banks and Grow A Row charities.

Rule Four: Quality Seed

Make a point of tracking down the best varieties. Quality seed is more expensive, but well worth it in the end. Germination is much better and the plants will be more vigorous.

Rule Five: Water Daily and Fertilize 

Vegetables in containers are like pets: they depend on you to provide for their every need. This means you need to tend to your plants with far more frequency than, say, you vacuum the carpets. Give each container a good daily soaking of water and add some 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can once a week. This will keep your plants healthy and increase the bounty you harvest. If the weather is hot, sunny and windy, you should probably soak the containers heavily in the morning and again in the evening.

From Black Thumb to Green?

Growing vegetables in containers is really quite simple. In fact, I’m almost convinced they’re bachelor-proof. Maybe it’s time for “The Black Thumb”— to turn green—after all, even super villains have been known to turn over a new leaf.

Container Roses Light Up Your Patio or Balcony

Container Roses Light Up Your Patio or Balcony

By Christina McDonald

There are many reasons to have roses in containers rather than in a traditional garden or order. Perhaps you have limited space, making the deck or balcony your only option. Or you may want to have a rose close at hand, to easily enjoy its beauty, scent and burst of colour.

Regardless of the reason, a container rose is an easy-to grow delight.Choose your rose and the container carefully. A 24-cm pot will easily accommodate a small miniature rose, whereas a large, robust Hybrid Tea will need a container at least 37 cm in diameter. Consider the shape, colour and material of the pot and whether it will compliment the form of the rose and its bloom colour. Traditional urns of roses are stunning, but so are hanging baskets; don’t be afraid
to try something new. Keep in mind that roses growing in plastic or glazed pottery vessels will require less water than clay or fibre.

Whichever pot you choose, fill it with good quality potting soil; regular garden soil will harden in the pot, and may carry soil-borne diseases. Potting soil won’t compact, allowing for better drainage; plus, it breathes and holds fertilizer well.

Select roses that are well suited to container growing. Roses with strong, upright growth that supports blooms above the foliage are ideal, as they hold up well to the elements and you can see each bloom. Cascading forms look striking with their blooms tumbling over the sides of a pot and compact forms can provide a very formal mounded look to a patio setting. The fun part is choosing a rose based on your own preference for flower form, fragrance, foliage and, of course, colour.

Roses prefer full sun, so place your pots accordingly (try moving your pots around the deck to follow the sun—that’s what I do as the season progresses). Make sure to keep your roses well
watered and once a week it helps to add a pinch of 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can. Remember to remove spent blooms regularly. While container roses are far more prone to drying out than those in the garden, take heart—they are much easier to weed. That feature alone may inspire you to try your hand at growing a glorious pot of roses!

You’re sure to find a suitable rose in every class—some are even purposely bred for this use. Here are a few of our tried and true favourites and some newer varieties to consider.
Abbaye De Cluny
Abraham Darby
Baby Love
Barbra Streisand
Bronze Star
Cupcake
Cyril Fletcher
Dream series
Flower Carpet series
Gizmo
Marmalade Skies
Octoberfest
Origami
Palace series
Ruffles series
Sheila’s Perfume
Singin’ in the Rain
Weeping China Doll

The Annual Elite

The Annual Elite

All-America Selections is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting excellence in plant breeding. Each year, a panel of volunteer judges selects some of the very best varieties, recognizing them for outstanding garden performance, beauty or, in the case of edible plants, flavour. AAS winners usually have at least two or three significant improvements over previous similar varieties!

‘Blue Wave’ Petunia

The ‘Wave’ series is already well-known for unparalleled vigour, producing dozens of large, vibrant blooms on huge, bushy plants. ‘Blue Wave’ possesses the same admirable qualities as its predecessors, but the blooms are a rich, fade-proof, deep blue. And it flowers all season with no pinching or pruning!

‘Prairie Sun’ Rudbeckia

‘Prairie Sun’ is a show-stopping, 90-cm tall rudbeckia with fantastic 12-cm blooms. The golden petals are tipped in primrose yellow and the eye is a gorgeous light green. It looks great as a focal point in containers!

‘Corona Cherry Magic’ Dianthus

This unique dianthus blooms in cherry red, lavender or a bicolour mosaic of both, resulting in an unpredictable but beautiful array of colour.

‘Purple Majesty’ Ornamental Millet

Ornamental millet is great for adding height and texture to a bed. ‘Purple Majesty’ accomplishes both feats and brings a fantastic dark purple colour to the garden. Plus, the tall flower spikes make ideal cut flowers.

‘Can Can Scarlet’ Carnation

A bouquet of carnations will warm the heart and these beauties have the added attraction of a powerful, spicy fragrance. The blooms are a vibrant scarlet, while the stems are an attractive shade of grey-green. The flower shape and quality are similar to commercial cutflower carnations!

Podcast: Container Gardening - Jim Hole's Top 5 Tips

Are you wondering about growing in containers but couldn't make it out to one of Jim's free talks this spring? Well, you're in luck! Jim Hole has recorded a container gardening podcast on the Hole's Radio Network, available here.

In episode 2 of the Hole's Radio Network, Jim Hole chats with Brad Walker—the reluctant gardener—about the top 5 things everybody needs to know about growing in containers.

Play it below or download it by clicking here and, when you're done checking it out, please let us know what you think (by replying in the comments below). Also, let us know if you'd like to see more podcasts or video tutorials in the future.

Your Urban Oasis

TOMATOES ON THE 23RD FLOOR

“Gardens have an almost magical ability to transport us to another place, far away from our everyday stress and worries. You don’t have to live on a farm to experience the magic. You can carve out a vegetable patch in a tiny urban backyard. You can fill a windowbox with potting soil and create a flowerbed on your apartment balcony. You can even tend tomatoes on the 23rd floor of an office tower.” - Lois Hole, I’ll Never Marry A Farmer

BALCONY BEAUTIFUL

Spending time in nature can be difficult when you live in the city. Start by creating an inviting outdoor space for your family and friends to enjoy! Hole’s carries a huge selection of pre-made flower planters and hanging baskets to instantly make the outdoors actually feel like the outdoors. One quick stop at Hole’s Greenhouses and you’ll be enjoying your balcony like never before! Take advantage of our FREE planter delivery from June 16 to July 10!

FRESHEST FLAVOUR

Straight from your plant to your plate (or cocktail!)—it doesn’t get any fresher than that! Have you ever purchased herbs from the grocery store? They’re affordable and taste great, but after a day or two, they begin to wilt and end up in the trash. Growing your own herbs saves time and money, and prevents waste. Right now at Hole’s, save 25% on Lois Hole’s Herbs & Edible Flowers book with the purchase any of our herb plants!

YOUR URBAN OASIS

A breath of fresh city air—yes, it’s possible! The indoor air we breathe can be stale and unhealthy, but plants are natural air purifiers—and they look great too! Relax and breathe easy knowing your air is healthy and clean.

Where can you start? Try an easy-to-care-for indoor plant like a spider plant, ivy, or fern. Plus, from June 16 to July 10, get your indoor plant repotted for FREE with the purchase of any decorative pot!

Container Gardening

Container-gardening-planter-pot-edmonton-stalbert-holes

Not that long ago, virtually all the plant pots you could buy were either made of clay, ceramic, or cheap plastic.
 
The clay pots were durable and attractive but exceedingly heavy and very difficult to move because of their weight. They also had a nasty habit of chipping unless they were handled carefully. Sometimes, they would also crack during the winter if water accumulated in the pot and turned to clay-splitting ice. 
 
Back then, plastic pots eliminated the weight and ice splitting issue common to clay, but they were quite ugly and became brittle and faded from the summer sun.
 
Today, those poor quality plastic pots have been replaced by high-quality, UV-resistant, lightweight, plastic pots that are also attractive. I have two gigantic, black pots in my yard that look as good as the day I bought them 7 years ago. One of our lines of pots, from Crescent Garden, even comes with a 10 year warranty! They remain outside 365 days a year without any protection and I plant them up with bedding plants in the spring and small evergreens and boughs for Christmas.
 
I think that the advances in pot durability and aesthetics are fabulous. Gardeners are embracing the idea that beautiful and durable pots go hand-in-hand with beautiful bedding plants. By investing in high quality pots now, you can enjoy them for years to come.
 

~Jim Hole

Container-gardening-planter-pot-edmonton-stalbert-holes

P.S. We still have a few spots left for my tomato gardening workshop on May 9th. Click here to purchase tickets. Our last couple workshops sold out, and I'm sure this one will too, so get your tickets soon!

For the rest of the summer, I will also be on Alberta@Noon on CBC Radio the first Friday of every month (starting May 1st at 12:30pm). The phone lines will be open from 12:30-1pm, so if you have any gardening questions, please call in!
 

Dig In St Albert's Horticulinary Festival

This weekend is going to be a spectacular time to visit Hole's Greenhouse. 

On Friday, we'll be hosting the Opening Gala for the Dig In Horticulinary Festival. The Opening Gala is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the workshops happening all day on Saturday, including 2 workshops that I'm teaching on container gardening [Editor's note: ticket sales for the paid workshops have now closed. Check out the free workshops below though!]

On Saturday, we'll also be offering FREE workshops on the mainstage all day.

  • At 9:00AM, I'll be teaching a free workshop on Companion Planting. In this workshop, you'll learn which plants help each other grow and which plants should be kept far apart from each other.  
  • At 9:30AM, Julianna Mimande from the Glasshouse Bistro will chat about what she learned about Permaculture while visiting Cuba. 
  • Finally, at 3:30PM, we'll be featuring the hottest pepper in the world, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper (grown right here in our greenhouse) in a hot pepper eating contest. I ate a single seed from this pepper a while back, and I'm still reeling from it!

Experts from all over the province will be in attendance, and there will also be lots of other free workshops on honey, oils and vinaigrettes, heritage grains, and much much more!

I'm also looking forward to many of the ticketed workshops. To name just a few of them, there are paid workshops on vertical gardening, sausage making, and even a wineology course! [Editor's note: ticket sales for these paid workshops have now closed. Check out the free workshops above though!]

Whatever you're interested in, we'll have a workshop for you this weekend. I'd love to see you there.

-Jim Hole