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Growing in pots for small gardens renters and apartment balconies

Notes prepared by Donna Livermore

A Good Life in the City (Instagram and Facebook)

Most vegetables, herbs and some fruits will grow really well in containers. By choosing the right plants you can have a very productive garden in just a few well-selected pots.

Pots make it easy to move your plants around, allowing you to capture more sun or shade and to take your garden with you when you move.

What pots should you choose? You need the right pot for the right job!

  • Mediterranean herbs and veggies will grow well in terracotta and ceramic pots
  • Lettuce and other greens would be better in pots that don’t dry out as quickly, especially in summer, so a self-watering pot which stores water in a reservoir below the soil, is a good solution.

You can also see what’s available for free – old milk crates lined with a hessian coffee bag can make an attractive pot, as well as old foam boxes, metal containers, old black recycling tubs – this list is almost endless. Just be sure to take into consideration the weight of the filled pots if you are gardening on a balcony.

Potting soil recipes

The key to creating great soil mixes for your pots is to include ingredients that can hold moisture, drain freely and are lightweight.

The three key ingredients for your homemade potting soils are:

  • Coconut coir (coir peat) – a by-product of the coconut industry with incredible water holding abilities.
  • Vermiculite – a lightweight mineral that holds moisture and encourages good drainage.
  • Compost and worm castings – add nutrients, microorganisms and structure to a mix (compost).

You also need to add additional fertilisers to grow nutritious and healthy plants. Use a combination of the following: rock dust/rock minerals, biochar, organic slow-release fertiliser, seaweed, fish emulsion and Epsom salts.

Using old potting mix

Old potting mix can be resurrected! Soak the old mix in some water and add the same amount of rehydrated coconut coir and combine. Add compost, worm castings and fertilisers and you are good to ‘grow’.

Regardless of your potting mix, remember to liquid fertilise your plants every few weeks to give them ready access to nutrients throughout the growing season. Diluted worm wee and compost tea work well.

How can you keep potted plants moist in summer?

It is all about the potting soil, mulch and vigilance!

Add mulch on top of the soil to reduce evaporation. Dried leaves, straw, and hay are great choices.

How do you know when to water? A cheap water meter that you can pick up from a nursery or hardware shop can take the guesswork out of knowing when to water. It will give you an immediate indication of the moisture level.

Be aware that during very hot weather you may need to water your potted plants at least daily.

Maximising food production in a small space

Think 3D not 2D! When growing in small spaces we need to start thinking in terms of how much volume we have to grow in rather than how much floor space we have.

Look at the walls and balcony railings as potential growing spaces. Can you stack plants above each other using ladders or shelves? Stacking plants vertically adds visual interest as well as increasing our available growing space.

Happy food growing!