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How to start a container garden

March 06, 1997

By TERI JOHNSON

Staff Writer

Container gardening doesn't have to be expensive, and it is limited only by your imagination.

Anything that will hold dirt and water can be used, says Father George Limmer of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hagerstown, who has been gardening in containers for years.

Limmer offers the following advice:

Containers

You can buy large flowerpots to use, or you can get containers for free.

Businesses often recycle or throw away large plastic containers that are perfect for gardening, so don't be afraid to ask, Limmer says.

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Fast-food restaurants receive pickles and condiments in large buckets. Contractors may have empty five-gallon buckets that contained spackling compound, or pieces of broken PVC pipe that can be cut and used as containers. A nursery may be willing to give you a few black plastic tubs that were used to hold trees for planting.

If there is printing on the outside of the container, you can paint or cover it if desired.

Heat and ultraviolet rays tend to break down the plastic, so they need to be replaced more often than containers that are manufactured for planting purposes, Limmer says.

You also can fill a child's wading pool with soil. It's a good way to recycle an old pool that has a hole, as you need to punch drainage holes in the bottom to make a planter.

Planters also can be made by piling up old tires.

Soil

The soil should have enough body to hold water, but it should be porous enough so water will pass through.

You can buy a commercial soil mixture or mix peat moss and sand into dirt.

The container should have drainage holes and something to cover them so the soil won't come out. Limmer punches holes that are one inch in diameter, then places pieces of old window screen over them.

Gravel or pieces of broken clay flowerpots also can be placed on the bottoms of the containers.

Because the container is exposed on all sides, it gets colder faster, and the soil freezes solid in the winter, he says.

"Things that would overwinter in the garden won't grow here," he says.

Limmer prefers to use plants instead of seeds.

In the fall he cuts up the plants and composts them into the soil, providing nutrients for next year.

Limmer says you don't have to wait until you harvest your plants to dig in with your eating utensils. Use a fork to scratch the surface of the soil and a spoon to dig out weeds and fill in the cracks.

Water and fertilizer

The most important thing to remember is to water your plants, Limmer says.

In July and August he waters his plants every day, and he waters his tomatoes twice a day.

When you water the plants, as the soil dries out it pulls away from the container and leaves an opening along the side. If such a crack appears, be sure to fill it with more soil, Limmer says.

Plants grown in containers need to be fertilized frequently, Limmer says. When plants are watered, the liquid runs out the bottom and dissolves the nutrients in the soil.

Limmer uses a weak solution of water-soluble fertilizer. He advises buying a large quantity if you will be planting in a lot of containers.

He says he gardens not to save money, but as a hobby.

"I really enjoy it," he says.

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