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A Bucketload of Container Gardening Ideas

            You don't have to have a back yard or a whole lot of space to get into gardening with children. In fact, keeping the plants collected, or contained, in a smaller space, simplifies garden processes. It literally "contains" the concepts and makes them easier for children to grasp.

            Container gardening makes a lot of sense practically, too. For most schools, homes and apartments, the soil that's already in place in the ground is almost always substandard for growing vegetables and flowers. There's usually asphalt, sand and gravel in schoolyard soils, and sticky clay soils in back yards with bad drainage and low fertility.

            So a container garden with specially-mixed soil is a great solution to show kids how important good soil is.

            No matter what container you choose, you can mix your own container soil with either of these recipes, using storebought materials: 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 perlite . . . or ½ potting soil, ½ homemade or compost, and a handful or two of sand, bone meal, vermiculite, or all three.

            Also, no matter what container you use, it's a good idea to pre-wash it to prevent soil diseases or pests. Use an environmentally-friendly disinfectant, or a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts warm water.

            Just be absolutely sure that your container has drainage holes of some kind, because soggy soil will give you rotten roots, and no flowers or veggies up top!

It's also wise not to choose containers that hold too small a quantity of dirt. You'll be fussing with them too much, and they'll be crying out to be watered so often that it'll defeat the purpose of container gardening, which is supposed to be convenience. Probably one gallon of soil is a minimum amount to spare your schedule.

Also be aware that some garden containers let the soil dry out really fast and heat up too fast. If you're not sure you can water your container every day, or every other day, you'd better not choose those that dry out faster than you can replenish the moisture. Also avoid hot concrete for directly under your container, or placing a container in a place that will get relentless, hot, afternoon sun.

Basically, things that hold just a small quantity of soil, or that are made of wood or have wide air holes, like a crate with wooden slats with wide air spaces, will dry out faster than larger, bulkier soil containers. The plants, including their roots, will literally "fry." Of course, you can choose plants that LOVE to be dry and LOVE a lot of hot sun, such as moss rose or cacti. Just be aware to match your container gardening environment with the containers and plants you use.

Now . . . for the container . . . the heart of container gardening!

            The obvious solution is to use a big clay pot, or build a box for each student. A clay pot that is 18" across is large enough for one cherry tomato plant, or maybe a dozen clumps of salad greens. A square, 3' x 3', that's a foot or 18" tall, is a great idea into which quite a few plants can be grown. In such a box on the ground, you can spade down and turn over the soil inside and then pour your special container mix of soil over. Ideally, you'll have at least 12" of soft, rich soil.

            You can also use other simple "found" boxes -- a wooden orange crate, a wooden wine box, a half-barrel, a wooden window box purchased from a garage sale or junk store . . . and they'll work great . . . but kids might enjoy brainstorming their own offbeat containers - to "think outside the box" - with ideas such as:

            Wheelbarrow -- just make sure to select shallow-rooted plants, such as radishes and marigolds

            Sack - just poke several drainage holes with a nail in the bottom of a sack of compost, slit the top open, and fold and crimp the plastic rim around to form a circular top that won't block the rain or your watering can; then plant one potato or one tomato plant per sack

            Tire stack - it's fun to paint the tires with acrylic, outdoor-friendly paint first, and then stack three tires. Fill the center with your potting mix. Plant and water as usual.

            Crock - an antique store or junk store might have a beautiful ceramic crock or pot; if it doesn't have drainage holes, you can put a brick or bricks in the bottom, plant plants in a plastic or clay pot or pots with drainage holes, and place on top of the bricks so that water drains into the bottom of the crock

            Big basket - it should be wide enough and deep enough to hold enough soil to be worthwhile; you can line it with bubble wrap or a plastic gallon milk-jug bottom with drainage holes poked in it with a nail, to hold the soil in place

Bathtub or sink - a very creative re-use of a scrapped ceramic bathroom piece is as a container; you might be able to position the piece to use the existing drainage hole with just a little nylon net over the hole to hold the dirt in

            Old toy wagon - an adult could drill several drain holes in the bottom if you're SURE you want to turn it into a plant-growing wagon

            Big, old bucket, including a milk bucket or a beach bucket - whether in metal or plastic, a big bucket with several drainage holes punched out in the bottom makes a whimsical statement of summer fun

            You can use your imagination for just about any other container! Have fun, and happy container-gardening!

By Susan Darst Williams • www.KidsGardenClub.org • Themes 05 © 2010

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