Container gardening is a perfect “any-place any-time” solution for growing colourful flowers and fresh vegetables, whole year long. Read more to learn about this.
Basic needs of container plants include- sunlight, water, fertilizer and pesticides. However, the limited size of a container means frequently taking care of the needs of a plant. For example, container plants require regular watering, unlike wild plants, as there is no ground water-table to maintain moisture in the soil during dry conditions. Nevertheless, regularly nurturing and watching the plants grow is what makes gardening a rewarding and satisfying past-time.
Make “right plant, right place” your motto for a flourishing plant. Choose a plant according to the amount of sunlight a spot receives. A south-facing wall receives more sunlight than a north-facing one. Usually, woody plants, flowering plants and variegated-foliage plants require more light than low-growing bedding plants and herbaceous plants. Common problems associated with unbalanced sunlight are:
- Too much sunlight: Leaves become pale in colour and their size reduces. They turn dry and brittle along the edges. Shift the plant gradually to a more shaded spot, giving it time to recover. Suddenly moving it into deep shade may cause loss of leaves.
- Too little sunlight: Plants turn leggy with long, sprawling stems reaching out for sunlight while the leaves turn darker and larger in size. Flowering plants produce fewer flower-buds while variegated leaves lose their colour. Shift the plant gradually to a brighter spot to promote denser growth.
Moist soil enables the roots of a plant to absorb nutrients from it. It is usually time to water when the top one-inch of the soil feels dry. However, water requirement varies from plant to plant. Cactus or succulents can survive for days without water, while ferns need water regularly to grow. Watering also depends on the size of the container- bigger the container, less frequently it needs to be watered.
- Water thoroughly, allowing it to drain from the bottom of the container. If the soil feels soggy even after a few hours, then poke the drainage hole to unblock it.
- Throw away the excess water collected in the tray below. Don’t let the plant sit in water, as it restricts the air-flow from the hole and develops anaerobic conditions in the soil.
- Allow the soil to get dry before the next round of watering since constantly moist soil may develop mould.
- Mist the leaves occasionally to clean the dust from it. However, don’t keep the leaves constantly wet as it develops fungal problems.
- Reduce watering during cooler seasons as growth of a plant slows down.
- It causes the leaves to develop brown tips and wilt. Moreover, wet soil doesn’t allow the roots to breathe.
- Stunted slow growth with yellowing leaves, water-soaked spots and blisters are also symptoms of over-watering.
- Frequent watering also drains away the essential nutrients from the soil.
- Over-watering symptoms look similar to that of under-watering; hence check the soil to determine if the problem is excess moisture in the soil or very dry soil. It is harder for plants to recover from over-watering, especially if the roots have rotted.
- Allow the soil to dry-out before watering again. If the soil is clayey and turns soggy on watering, treat it by adding sand and organic matter to make it loose and to improve its drainage.
- Under-watering is easier to fix if detected on time.
- Like over-watering, the symptoms of under-watering include drooping leaves with pale-brown margins. However, the roots stay healthy even in dry soil for some time.
- Treat it by watering the container thoroughly and letting it drain from the bottom.
- If water drains too quickly, then either the plant has over-grown, suggesting it’s time to re-pot, or the soil is loose and doesn’t hold water. Improve the moisture-retention capacity of the soil by adding organic matter like manure or compost.
- Organic Fertilizers
In the wild, plants are naturally fed by decaying plant and animal matter. But in an artificial environment of a container, soil needs to be fertilized regularly to replenish the nutrients for a plant to grow. The best time to fertilize plants is during spring when their growth starts to kick-off.
- Dry fertilizer: Dry fertilizer such as manure and compost, is derived from plant and animal matter. It lasts longer as it releases nutrients slowly into the soil and improves the soil quality like porosity and moisture retention, unlike chemical fertilizers.
- Liquid fertilizer: Liquid fertilizer such as Compost-tea (Read about ‘Compost Tea‘) and “Panchagavya” (Read more on ‘Panchagavya‘) is added for immediate supply of nutrients to the plants. They instantly stimulate the growth of a plant without burning its roots, unlike chemical fertilizers.
- Organic mulch: A layer of organic mulch over the soil decomposes slowly, releasing vital nutrients along with conditioning the soil. Refill the organic mulch from time to time with shredded-leaves, wood-chips, grass-clippings, hay, straw, cocoa-shells, saw-dust, etc.
- Earth-worms: Considered as a gardener’s best friend, earthworms serve not only as nature’s plough, but they also fertilize the soil by converting organic matter into simpler nutrients for the plants. Their presence is an indicator of a healthy nutrient-rich soil. Read more about the benefits of these wonderful creatures in “Earthworm-Nature’s plough” (Read about ‘Earthworms and how they are beneficial‘).
To know more about different kinds of available organic fertilizers and their benefits over chemical fertilizers, read “Organic Fertilizer” (Read about various ‘Organic Fertilizers‘).
- Organic Pesticides
In natural ecosystems, there is no such thing as pests because every living-being has its own role to play in maintaining the equilibrium of nature. Bugs are an essential part of the nature’s food-chain, where they feed on plants and in-turn are eaten by larger animals and birds. However, in an isolated man-made environment, this balance gets distorted and the unchecked feeding of bugs poses threats to the health of a plant. Some nature-friendly cures to check the growth of pests are:
- Living-pesticides: Nature has its very own army of natural pesticides like ladybugs, spiders, beetles, etc., which feed on pests such as aphids, moths, snails and so on. Besides controlling pests, these living-pesticides benefit the plants by aiding pollination. Read about several kinds of living-pesticides and their benefits in “Beneficial Insects to Attract to your Garden” (Learn about ‘Beneficial Insects‘).
- Neem-extracts: Since the ancient times, Neem tree has been highly revered for its innumerable health benefits. It acts as a natural cure for more than 200 different kinds of pests. Extracts from this sacred tree such as leaves, bark, root and oil is used as an effective organic pesticide. Read more about the various uses of this sacred tree in “Neem Organic Insecticide”.
Whitefly is the most commonly dreaded pest, which feeds on the under-sides of leaves causing them to deform and droop. They can be controlled by removing the infected parts and spraying the plant with Neem-oil. Read further about Whiteflies and methods to control it in “Controlling Whiteflies Organically”.
For more information on efficient organic methods to combat pests, read ‘Organic Pest Control Methods in Gardens‘.
Why organic gardening?
The universal rule of “what goes around comes around” is the simplest way to appreciate organic gardening. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides used for quick gains today will come back to destroy our health and degrade our farms tomorrow. With the rapidly depleting quality of soil, due to excessive use of synthetic chemicals, there will no longer be fertile soil left to cultivate our food.
Nature survived for millions of years before the human-race evolved, and will continue to survive long after it is gone. Therefore, organic-gardening is essentially about preserving our future by living in harmony with Nature. This is achieved by practising sustainable methods of growing plants and caring for wildlife dependent on it.
Link to Part 2: Container Gardening: Basic Needs of Container Plants (Part 2)