Container Gardens are great for novice gardeners

Story provided by Agricultural Communications, Oklahoma State University

For some folks, gardening is a mystery – perhaps even intimidating. Some want-to-be gardeners may believe they don’t know enough about it to try, or are simply convinced they don’t have a green thumb.

For those who don’t know a rose bush from a tomato plant, there is still hope. David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist, said anyone can garden, no matter their skill level or the size of the landscape.

“Obviously, big, elaborate gardens and landscapes take time and talent. But, if you start slowly, maybe with just a tomato plant, a pot of herbs or even a few colorful annuals, you’re bound to have success,” Hillock said. “Starting small and slow also is a great way to get kids interested in horticulture. It’s easy to get started gardening by planting a dish garden, container garden or a succulent garden.”

vContainer gardening at The Botanic Garden at OSU. Photo by Jefferson Bryant

A dish garden is a type of container garden, typically made with shallow dishes or bowls and with multiple plants in one container. The great thing about a dish garden is that different species of plants can be mixed and matched. However, Hillock said to make sure the plants have similar water and light requirements.

Hillock also said the dish must have enough room and proper growth medium to support the plants. In addition, keep drainage in mind.

“Don’t use a layer of gravel in the bottom of the dish. This actually will hinder water movement away from the roots,” he said. “The media used for a dish garden will vary, depending on the type of plants. Choose something that drains well, but holds adequate moisture. The soil also shouldn’t be very fertile, as this encourages rapid growth.”

Container gardening at The Botanic Garden at OSU. Photo by Jefferson Bryant

The great thing about dish gardening is the plants used generally stay small or grow slowly. A popular plant group for dish gardening is succulents, for example. Succulents don’t need as much depth as other plants because they can tolerate shallow rooting and longer dry spells. Don’t make the mistake of planting a succulent with a plant that likes moist soil and high humidity.

Container gardening is another option for beginners, and it opens up even more possibilities than dish gardens.

“Some people may think container gardens are just for flowers or small shrubs, but you actually can grow a wide variety of edibles, including vegetables and herbs. Herbs or a tomato plant are great choices for novice gardeners,” Hillock said. “Although container gardening includes many of the same elements as traditional gardening, it isn’t nearly as time consuming, which makes it perfect for those just getting interested in gardening. Basically, once the flowers, herbs or vegetables are planted, all you have to do it keep it fertilized and watered.”

Keep in mind that Oklahoma’s summer heat quickly can dry out the potting soil in the containers, so be vigilant with proper watering. The extra time spent watering compensates for the lack of time spent weeding.

Another bonus of container gardening is not only does the plant being grown add something to the landscape, the container itself can add texture, color and whimsy.

Hillock said to get creative when selecting the container.

“Think way beyond the basic flowerpot. Find something that reflects your interests and personality,” he said. “If there’s a pair of old rainboots taking up space in your house, take them outside, fill with soil and plant something in them. Have the kids outgrown that old toy dump truck or wagon? Fill them with plants. Repurpose an old galvanized tub into a planter. Gardeners are limited only by their imaginations.”

Container gardening at The Botanic Garden at OSU. Photo by Jefferson Bryant

As with dish gardens, drainage is a key factor with container gardens. When potting soil becomes waterlogged, the plants often will experience root rot and die. Simply drill a few holes in the bottom of the container and the issue is resolved.

Visual interest is a big part of gardening and easily can be created with containers by planting a tall plant in the middle and filling in the space around it with smaller plants. Finish the look by choosing a few plants that will drape over the edges of the container.

Hillock said yet another advantage of container gardening is that the container is portable. The containers can be moved around the patio to create different looks. And, if relocation is in the future, the containers can make the move, as well.

“Young folks, or those with a few more years of life experience, who haven’t gardened for one reason or another, really should consider a dish or container garden,” Hillock said. “You just never know what you’re capable of until you get a little dirt under your fingernails.”

OSU Extension has more research-based information available on dish gardens and container gardening.