Dr. Grow: A lot of space isn't needed to start a garden, just ingenuity and planning

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Paul Schnare shows that anything can be grown in a pot. (Fred Lynch)

A few months ago I received an unsigned letter from an individual who criticized my columns. The writer said all I talked about was how to kill things. I should be talking about how to grow things. I showed the letter to a friend of mine who referred to it as mild hate mail. I didn't know that a gardener could be "hated" for weeding.

I assume the letter writer was referring to my suggestions on how to eliminate weeds from a lawn or how to kill Japanese beetles. I write columns and make presentations based upon what the current questions from gardeners are at the time of publication. Many times the questions that gardeners ask are how to kill or get rid of a pest.

I hope this column assures the letter's author that I am concerned about how to grow things. I hope he or she will read this column and perhaps change their opinion of me. I really do like to grow plants.

Current horticulture trade journals and popular women's magazines are full of articles on how to grow herbs, tomatoes, peppers and flowers in containers. This interest is being driven by many forces. Many gardeners live in apartments and only have a patio, deck or porch on which to grow something.

Several friends of mine are avid cooks who love to use spices and herbs in their recipes but don't want to go out to the garden to snip a few fresh leaves. They want the plant either growing in their kitchen or just outside the back door. Container gardening is perfect for them.

These are some shade-loving plants that will grow well together in the same pot. (Fred Lynch)

Many older gardeners -- which I am fast becoming -- want to grow something but can't bend down to pick the green beans or have trouble walking on freshly tilled ground. Again, container gardening is a great alternative for them.

Is container gardening something new? No! Bonsai, the ancient art of growing plants in miniature form, has been around longer than the written pages of history. I am sure that historians could cite example after example of references to plants grown in containers.

Many gardening writers, myself included, have written about the techniques used to grow plants in containers. We have discussed the importance of using a soilless potting mix as the rooting medium, the use of lime to adjust the soil pH and the use of water-soluble fertilizers to promote plant growth.

We have talked about the need for soil drainage and problems associated with over watering. We have talked about placing your container plant in the right light regime and away from drafts.

What I find interesting is that seldom does anyone talk about what kinds of plants can be grown in containers. This idea hit me right between the eyes the other day when an acquaintance and I were discussing the subject. Her responses to suggestions that I made on what kinds of plants could be grown in a container were "Can you really grow a tomato in a straw bale?" I guess a straw bale can be considered a container. "I didn't know you could grow potatoes in a pot." Growing them this way means you don't have to dig them. "Can you really grow a fruit tree in a pot and keep it on the back patio?"

Kathleen Vinyard shows various sun-loving plants that will grow well together in the same pot. (Fred Lynch)

What kinds of plants can you grow in a container? My answer is "All of 'em." All you need is a little imagination and some trial-and-error to get the techniques down pat.

If you want to combine different varieties of plants in a single pot, put sun-loving plants with sun-loving plants, or drought-tolerant plants with drought-tolerant plants. Any other combinations of form, texture, etc. are up to you. After all, it is your container, so use your imagination. Do what looks good to you.

I hope this column convinced the unknown letter writer that I am really interested in growing plants. If not, I'm sorry. For you the reader, just have fun planting and growing in containers.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.<I>

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