Consider the case of Kathy Villa, a retired Medford elementary school teacher and life-long gardener. Kathy has a home with both front and back yards, but found growing in containers was the easiest for her to maintain. "I started container gardening over 10 years ago because I weighed around 460 pounds and containers were much easier for me to tend to," Kathy recalls.
Weight loss surgery several years ago helped her shed 300 pounds, but she kept up with her self-proclaimed "pot garden" because she'd come to love it. "Besides, I have a lot more fun with the garden since losing weight because it's easier getting around," Kathy adds.
Along Kathy's front driveway, large wood and plastic planters explode with colorful annuals, perennials and bulbs. Pansies keep up the color through the fall and winter. Along the side of her house, more planters for flowers are accented with an enormous piece of driftwood. In Kathy's backyard, an extensive container vegetable garden grows squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, and spinach, along with more flowers.
The soil Kathy uses in her containers is a mix of compost, potting soil, and sand, and she freshens up this soil and fertilizes every time she plants. Kelly Brainard, owner of Ashland Greenhouses, underscores the importance of using fresh potting mix every year and that a light soil with good drainage is critical to success. "After about a year, the soil gets depleted of the ingredients needed for optimal plant health," Brainard explains.
"I encourage customers to map out where their garden containers will be placed and what kinds of plants will go in each one," Brainard says. Sun exposure and watering needs must also be considered when drawing up plans for a container garden.
"We've noticed more interest in container gardening the past few years, with more people wanting to plant vegetables as well as flowers in containers," says Greg Stewart, nurseryman at the Grange Co-op in Medford.
Both professionals emphasize the need for consistent fertilizing throughout the growing season to ensure healthy and abundant flowers and vegetables. Stewart prefers wood and ceramic containers as they offer the best year-round insulation for a container plant's root system.
Stewart also recommends planting draping flowers and vegetables (such as wave petunias, verbena, and cucumbers) along the rims of containers as extra insulation during hot summer days. "The above-ground soil heats up faster and the plant's roots are susceptible to getting burned," he says.
Kathy Villa encourages anyone considering a container garden to have fun with it. "I tell people that it's OK to pull out a plant that isn't doing well, and to try another one," she says. She enjoys the variety of different plants every year. And there's a challenge in successfully growing "bedding only" plants in containers. Kathy met the challenge with "dinner plate" dahlias. "They were spectacular," Kathy says. "Did I do good, or what?"