I'd love to be a backyard gardener, but I have no place to plant in our small yard. I have decided to try container gardening. I wondered if anyone knew of any good resources or advice to help get me started. I know something about gardening, but my main concern is how am I going to keep the squirrels, skunks, and other wild city animals out of my containers! I would appreciate some pointers!
Katharine B. of St. Catharines, ONT
I've done container gardening for years and never had a problem, but I would keep animals out by planting some garlic or other herbs they don't like around or near your other plants. This and flowers like marigolds will also keep insects away, which are likely to be more of a problem anyway. Use good potting soil and deep containers. Fertilize frequently with weak solutions of fertilizer. You probably will not need an insecticide, but if you do, be sure to use one that is safe for edible plants. Often, simply picking off insects is sufficient. Do not put your containers near insect-attracting plants like roses.
Barbara of Wallingford, CT
Container gardening can be a very rewarding experience as it is possible to grow beautiful plants and vegetables all year round without too much maintenance. There are many different plants and vegetables that can be trellised to minimize the risk of animal invasion. You might try contacting the Master Gardener Society in your area at http://www.mgoi.ca/ for more information concerning pest management techniques unique to your situation, as well as plant selection ideas.
Hillary of Lubbock, TX
Squirrels and skunks don't like most garden produce that you would grow in a city container garden (squirrels like corn, nuts and pumpkins), so they shouldn't be a problem. Groundhogs (woodchucks) love most vegetables. They don't like tomatoes, so if you do, grow a lot of these. Groundhog can't climb vertically like a cat, so put containers on a table or platform and they shouldn't been able to reach your vegetables. However, if there's a ramp or stairs leading to your container, they'll use them to reach your containers. We have outwitted the groundhog with planter boxes on our deck railing and by building a garden table in the yard.
To keep squirrels away from bulbs, dip them in baby powder before planting. For other plants, occasionally sprinkle a little cayenne pepper around them to keep away other pests. Also check with your local nursery or online for plants that repel small animals.
To keep them out of the containers while the plants are small, try cutting open the legs of old pantyhose. Use a stick as a prop and create a little tent around them. Also, small chimes (like those from the dollar store) hung on a stick in the container should also keep them away. You can also experiment with small balls or strips of aluminum foil if they start scratching around in the containers.
Check out the Square Foot Garden at SquareFootGardening.com. I do not have a green thumb and was able to produce a significant crop of tomatoes on my first try using this method last spring. Not once did I have to spray with harmful chemicals or do much more than weed it once a week or so (airborne seeds, I'm guessing), and the experience was very rewarding. I've begun this year's crop using the same method because of the impressive results.
This is in response to the subscriber who wants to garden in containers. I lived in Florida for 16 years and found that the EarthBox was the answer to my garden dilemma. The soil in Florida did not produce the quality that I wanted. With the EarthBox, I did not have to weed. I just had to water and the quality and quantity outweighed the initial cost. I produced so much that my neighbors were supplied as well.
I have since moved to Tennessee and brought my boxes with me. I do not want the expense nor the work of tilling, etc. in the clay. Therefore, this is going to be my way of gardening. I now have figured out how to turn other containers into the EarthBox concept and am looking forward to having a carefree productive garden without the work. EarthBox is made and sold in Ellenton, FL or can be found on the Internet at Earthbox.com.
Barbara in Fairview, TN (formerly from Bradenton, FL)
I suggest buying concrete screen, which is used to hold concrete in place. Ask any good hardware store and they will know what you want. Take it home and cut a piece out of it (along the side not out of the middle) about the same size as your container. Now, make a cut almost to the center and cut a circle out to fit around your plant. Place it in the container and put gravel on top. Critters don't like it when they get their claws caught in the wire. If you have a lot of plants in one container, I would just cut strips of the wire and lay them in the pot and cover with gravel.
The best resource for container gardening I found was a book called McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers. It doesn't have a specific chapter on pest control, but it is a good resource. I even found it at my local library.
Stephanie W. of Houston, TX
It is important to remember that container gardening is different from gardening in the ground. The soil is more compacted, and you will need to aerate and water the soil more. Buy containers from a discount store or use what you have around the house. Those five-gallon laundry buckets will grow just about anything. However, you can grow quite a bit in two- to three-gallon containers. Just drill holes in the bottom for drainage.
You need potting soil in containers or your soil will become too compacted to grow decent roots. Since soil and soil amendments are your most expensive continuous garden items, I recommend making your own.
I put regular garden soil in a clean old metal pan. Moisten and cover it with foil. Put it in your oven on the lowest setting for about an hour or so. Stir every now and then until it is warm throughout, not hot. This helps get rid of weed seeds and unwanted pests. When the soil is cool, mix it with one part sphagnum moss and one part vermiculite. I recommend mixing this on a big plastic tarp to get an even mix. Put it in a large clean container. The vermiculite and sphagnum moss will cost you a little up front but they last a long time.
You will need to give container plants more nutrition since the plant cannot draw it from the ground. I recommend Jerry Baker's garden books, as he has many fine, cheap homemade garden remedies and fertilizers.
Lastly, having a small yard should not prevent you from planting in your yard. We have a large yard, but the sunlight is best where the ground is hard and compacted. I plant edibles among the perennials. I dig a hole and fill it with compost, then plant my seedling. You can get composting information from the Internet, the library, or your agricultural co-op extension listed in the phone book.
Container plants are great presents this time of the year. I bought some large pots for $1 each, made some container soil and planted six pansies I bought for $2.29 in one of them. Talk about a cheap gift.
Mary in WA