Container essentials

I started using containers in 2019 at the height of baboon raids on my property and had to enclose them in a baboon proof enclosure.

Fortunately, things have changed: our property in 2021 is enclosed by an electric fence, and baboons no longer enter our property.  However, we still have to protect some plants from birds, but we can leave most of our container plants out in the open.

Any vegetable, berry or herb grown in the ground can be grown in a container, provided it is large enough. 

Container gardening allows gardeners to plant many plants in a relatively small space, which is helpful in a small home garden.   

Combing container gardening with raised bed gardening also allows larger plants such as marrows that are difficult to grow in a square foot garden to be grown.

I have been able to grow berries like blueberries, strawberries and Cape gooseberries in containers which has enhanced my garden.

However, since container gardening is different from traditional gardening, essential steps for success are needed, including a continuous supply of nutrients, fertilizers, and water.

Also, container plants do not have access to the nutrients, fungi, and bacteria naturally found in soil leached out in a few months.

I incorporate slow-release organic fertilizer pellets into my potting mix, which dissolve at varying rates to overcome this problem. Most brands feed plants for at least 60 days.  

I also apply a water-soluble (liquid) fertilizer to supplement the slow-release fertilizer directly to plant roots. It is an easy process to dissolve the fertilizers in water according to package directions.

There are many types on the market, and the correct NKP ratios are required according to the plant being grown, (see the nutrients and fertilizer sub-section in the Ecosystem section).

Organic choices include fish meal emulsion and liquid kelp. 

I water all my vegetables with a dilute seaweed feed about once a month.

However, heavy feeders like tomatoes need weekly fertilizer applications with the correct NKP ratio.

In general, I fertilize throughout the growing season, from spring until late summer. 

I feed container plants at least twice a month with liquid fertilizer, following the instructions on the label and applying an occasional compost application that adds trace elements to container soil.

Some container plants, like herbs, do not need a regular feed, which shouldn’t need to be fed at all, particularly lavender, thyme or rosemary; they do best in nutrient-poor, drier conditions.

Should plants become a bit under the weather, due to heavy fruit production or after pruning I water with diluted seaweed solution or spray the seaweed solution directly onto the leaves, but only in the morning or early evening and never when the sun is beating on plants. The fertilizer will burn leaves.

To ensure growth, vegetables need consistently moist soil. 

Container size is important; containers often can’t store enough water to get through hot days if too small. I generally use 5-gallon containers because roots need room to grow and function optimally.

Plants in containers also need the best possible soil,  aeration, and drainage for healthy root growth and optimum harvest, and most vegetables need (see the soil sub-section in the Ecosystem section). 

I do not use soil from the garden: It is too heavy, can become waterlogged, and brings disease and insects.  Fortunately, a small garden allows for this at a reasonable cost.