By Nikki Tilley and Shelley Pierce
There are a number of reasons to grow in containers, with one of the biggest benefits of container gardening being able to place the container anywhere you desire. This location could bring you culinary convenience, for example, by being an arm’s length from your kitchen. Just think of the possibilities, such as a container of herbs or salad greens! But are there downsides of container gardening? In addition to the good aspects of a potted environment, it helps to weigh the possible container gardening disadvantages too, so that you can make the best decision for your circumstances, preferences and pocketbook.
Pros of Container Gardening
Shelley’s viewpoint: When it comes to containers, it is no wonder I can’t contain my excitement. Containers may be small in size but are big on possibilities and can make just as much a visual impact or statement with a lot less effort and time investment as a fixed garden plot. Read on to learn more about the advantages of growing in containers.
Improved accessibility. Containers improve accessibility in that they make gardening an option for everyone regardless of individual circumstances. Perhaps you have physical limitations that preclude you from bending over or getting on your knees. One of the greatest advantages of growing in containers is that they can be positioned at a more workable and comfortable height for you, whether you are seated or standing. Or maybe you live in an urban area where you do not own or have access to a plot of land. Containers can make gardening a reality for you by providing the opportunity to green up or liven up your balcony, deck or concrete pad with a dash of color or fragrance.
Builds confidence. Thinking about gardening for the first time but feel a bit overwhelmed at managing a full-fledge gardening plot? A container is a wonderful place to start, as it is more manageable due to its small size and, hence, an ideal way to build gardening confidence. A container is also easier to maintain than a garden plot in that it requires no digging or tilling and little to no weeding – and allows for better control over growing conditions (water, sunlight, soil type, nutrients, etc.). Perfect for beginners!
Better growth. Looking for more reasons to grow in containers? Placing a container in a highly visible location helps minimize “out of sight out of mind” neglect which, in turn, can equate to better care and, hence, better growth. Fixed garden plots are really not a “one size fits all” solution for every plant. Containers are important as they give us more flexibility by allowing us to position our plants in locations that are the most advantageous for their growth (i.e. a location that provides the right amount of sun/shade).
Portability. Plants in fixed garden plots are more vulnerable than container plants as they are subject to weather extremes, pests and critters. One of the many pros of container gardening is that the containers can be whisked away temporarily or permanently to new, more amenable, locations if needed. The portability aspect of containers is particularly useful upon the advent of winter, as it can allow you to extend the life of your plants by bringing them indoors.
Get creative. With containers, you can really let your inner artist out. Containers come in all sorts of sizes, forms and colors. Almost anything can be repurposed into a plant container with a little imagination such as boots, old watering cans, toilets, and even bathtubs! Mix and match plant combinations in containers until you attain the eclectic look you are going for. Almost anything you can grow in the ground can be grown in a container, including flowers, vegetables, ornamental or fruit trees. The creative possibilities are endless and so much fun!
Cons of Container Gardening
Nikki’s viewpoint: Okay, there’s no denying that growing plants in containers have many upsides. In fact, I’ve taken advantage of these benefits myself. But, as with anything in life, there are also downsides. So while you’re taking into account all the good things associated with container gardening, keep in mind that there are just as many reasons not to grow in containers.
Pots dry out faster. You may love the flexibility that containers can provide in the landscape or wherever you place them, but you’ll be cursing under your breath as you sweat it out in the heat of summer with all the daily watering that these contained environments require. Potted plants dry out much faster than those grown in ground, especially during hot or windy conditions. In fact, once temperatures rise over 85 F. (29 C.), many container plantings will need to be watered at least twice a day to keep them happy and hydrated
More fertilizer needs. Additional feeding may be necessary for plants grown in containers vs. those in the ground. Why? First of all, their space is limited and the roots aren’t able to seek out more nutrient prone areas. Even with the best growing medium available, at some point, the plants will require supplemental feedings to ensure they’re receiving all the nutrients necessary for strong, vigorous health. Plus, all that additional watering means many of these nutrients get leached out and need to be replenished.
Containers need soil. Got soil? An empty container doesn’t and you’ll have to remedy that by going out and buying some. While you might have an ample supply of garden soil, containers have specific requirements regarding growing mediums, mostly aimed at drainage and nutrition. And the types of soil not only vary among manufacturers, but each plant has specific needs that also have be taken into consideration. For example, succulents do better in mediums specially formulated for cacti as opposed to a general potting mix. And, pay attention where you get soil from, as some types may include weeds or other less than ideal products.
Containers can get expensive. Yes, there are many types of containers and some of them aren’t cheap. Factor in all the extra soil and fertilizer on top of the plants themselves and you’re looking at a nice dent in your wallet. So unless you’re fine with the “plain Jane” look of the less expensive pots, this is something you should definitely keep in mind. What’s that? You can always refurbish items on hand for decorative containers. True. But guess what? This, too, can become costly if you wind up using items requiring sanding, painting, or other add-ons. And, additionally, over time many containers need to be replaced due to signs of weather or wear.
Weight can be a factor. If your containers are too lightweight, than all that “portability” will have new meaning as the plants get blown over or knocked down. And then there’s the ones that might be too hefty, like those container-grown trees, which can pose not only an issue on a balcony but try moving those suckers in and out of the house for overwintering.
Plants outgrow containers. Just as containers need replacing over time, plants can outgrow them. Container plants will require repotting as they grow, whether it’s upsizing to another new pot or even trimming the roots of trees or shrubs, this can be just as agonizing when you have other things to do. Those growing in the garden won’t require this extra upkeep.
How Do the Benefits of Container Gardening Compare Overall?
There’s little argument to be had with regards to container gardening advantages. Overall, containers seem to be the best solution for gardeners who want to pot plants with pizzazz, convenience and minimal time commitment. They can and do make wonderful additions to nearly any landscape BUT before running out and purchasing all the things your container might need, take the time to weigh both sides. Is this garden option right for you? Only you can decide.