Container Gardening for Small Spaces
If you only have limited space, like a balcony or windowsill, why not consider container gardening as a great way to start growing? All you need are plants, a couple of containers, compost or soil and a sunny windowsill, patio or balcony and you will be on your way.
Advantages of Container Gardening
- Accessible gardening – with a selection of different container heights, container gardening enables children or those with limited mobility to get hands-on with their gardening.
- A top tip for wheelchair users - Use round containers and curved beds to avoid nasty angles and provide easy access. Also, you can raise pots with bricks or pot coasters, for less bending and better drainage.
- Variety – you can grow a range of plants from vegetables, flowers, shrubs to your own herb garden and choose your own colour scheme, scent or season to plant.
- Portable – pots and containers can be moved to a new location if you decide to move property and they can even be moved to chase the sunlight, throughout the day if you have a lot of shade.
- Fewer pests, diseases and weeds – it is hard for weeds to establish themselves, so less maintenance is required.
- Less back pain - There is no need for heavy digging.
- Good for nature - Attracts wildlife to urban settings, especially bees, insects and birds.
- Nice Aromas - If you pick a fragrant plant which requires minimal effort, like lavender, try positioning near a window to bring the scent indoors.
- Clever use of limited space - a balcony, windowsill or courtyard garden can be filled with baskets and pots to keep your kitchen full of homegrown produce and flowers.
- Easier to water – by grouping the containers together, you can water them easily rather than a whole garden.
What you need to get started
- Containers – there is no need to spend lots of money on new containers, you can use recycled items such as an old watering can, even old tires and baked bean cans. If you want to buy new containers, there is a huge selection of containers made of different materials (wooden, clay, plastic) and these range in price (stone and zinc containers are more expensive). Consider the types of containers best suited to your planting location – hanging baskets for the front door, windowsill planters or tomato grow bags for vegetables.
- Compost - You can even just buy a grow bag and dispense with the need for pots at all. Plus, at the end of the season, you can reuse the soil/compost for something else.
- Good drainage - Add stones or shingle to the bottom of your container to retain moisture. Remember to poke some holes in the bottom of plastic ones to help with drainage.
- The right compost – a good quality compost will keep your plants growing healthy throughout the year. Try peat-free if you can get some.
- The right plants for your container – shrubs can grow rapidly and may outgrow their container, so choose the right size plants for your container size.
- Choose the right position for your container – plants need plenty of water and sunshine to ensure the best results. There are some plants that thrive in the shade.
Using a cold frame to propagate seeds
A cold frame is a mini greenhouse and you can use your DIY skills to make your own or purchase one from your local garden centre at a very reasonable price.
Small plastic cold frames are extremely portable, so you can move them around to different positions or if your gardening area gets a little crowded with potted plants. A cold frame creates a microclimate and provides insulation to harden off young plants and protect from hungry slugs.
- Water frequently – in the summer on a hot day, pots will need to be watered in the morning and evening to ensure the roots do not dry out.
- Moisture is key - Try using water-retaining crystals to slow-release liquid into the soil. Or you can set them in a tray of water, so they soak up from the bottom, throughout the day.
- Keep your plant safe - Use mulch around the plants to keep the moisture in and keep weeds at bay.
- Fertilise regularly – use a slow-release fertiliser to add nutrients to the soil over a longer period.
- Soil Maintainance - Remove any dead leaves or flowers as this will encourage new growth.
Pots and containers give structure and versatility to a small garden and the contents can be changed during the seasons, for example, bulbs in spring, vegetables in the summer, foliage in the winter.
You could have a go at growing a window box full of herbs, close to the kitchen for easy access for meal preparation. By arranging a collection of pots below, you are adding colour and appeal to an outdoor seating area or entrance, as well as giving the illusion of extra space.
For tips on which plants thrive in urban environments, when space is at a premium, visit the RHS website.