Just because you do not have a space or other area for a traditional in-the-ground garden does not mean you cannot have a few plants to brighten up you porch.

Where I live on White Oak Mountain the soil is mostly rock with only a few places where I can have a garden. Yet, I manage to spend a couple hundred dollars on plants every year, both annual flowers and vegetables. Not everything goes into the ground. Most of my plants are in containers and raised beds.

You may hear a lot about containers to grow plants, but you might not understand what it means. A container is pretty much anything that will hold enough soil to support the roots and growth of a plant. Therefore a container can be anything.



I have seen people use a large number of flower pots in various sizes to decorate their sidewalks and porches with a wide array of colorful flowers. I have also seen vegetable gardens growing in a cheap, plastic swimming pool filled with potting soil.

I have a begonia growing in an old boot on my back porch. I have grown geraniums and mums in an old wheelbarrow. Coffee cans, paint cans and many other items can be used. It’s a great way to repurpose something that would otherwise be thrown away.

Don’t be too timid to be whimsical. I once saw an old bra used as a hanging planter for some petunias in a botanical garden.

There are a few specifications you need to pay attention to when selecting something to use as a planter. Perhaps the most important thing is there needs to be a way for excess moisture to drain out of the container, otherwise the plants may either drown or die from rotten roots. I have an antique iron kettle that I do not want to drill a hole into, but I plant geraniums in it every year. Whenever we get a heavy shower I must turn it on its side to drain the soil.

Next, the container needs to be both deep enough and wide enough to hold enough soil to support the plant. In general, the bigger the plant the bigger the pot needs to be.

For example, to grow tomatoes in a container, each plant will need its own large container that is the equivalent of a 5 gallon bucket (with a drainage hole drilled into the bottom). Most vegetables will need a container that is at least 12 inches deep.

Some vegetables, like cucumbers and radishes, will not need so much space; I have grown cukes in hanging baskets. Many annual flowers, such as begonias, petunias, marigolds, vinca and impatiens will do fine in a container that is at least 4 inches wide and 4 inches deep. Remember that wider containers will hold more plants. I have a pot that is 6 inches deep and 18 inches across where I grow both geraniums and wave petunias, and the petunias will completely cover the 4 foot wide patio table where the pot rests by the end of the summer.

Soil is the next thing of importance. Remember, quality in, quality out. Better soils produce better plants. And be sure to use potting soil or a homemade potting mixture. Soils dug up from the ground are very heavy and difficult to work with.

Native soils do not grow plants as well as potting soil in a container. There are other products available that are intended to be used as amendments to garden soils. Bags of top soil or garden soil will often disappoint the gardener when they are used alone. A composted manure product may grow great tomatoes when used alone, but other plants may struggle to survive in that growing media.

Finally there are watering and feeding. A slow release fertilizer can be added at planting time that will last the growing season. There are some powdered plant foods that are mixed with water and fed while watering the plants. Use these only once every one or two weeks, and do not over feed your plants.

Feeding is not usually needed if the potting soil is one that comes with fertilizer already in it. Watering is simple. Just stick a finger into the soil to the second knuckle. If it is dry, add water. I usually water once a week to once every other day depending on how hot and dry the weather is.

Last, it is best to replace the soil every year to provide a fresh environment for the plants. If the soil is reused every year it will need to be amended with fertilizer and compost.

Enjoy your garden.

Sutphin is an extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Danville Unit Office. Contact him at (434) 799-6558.