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In the garden: the top 5 reasons to grow food in containers

Just about anything you can grow in the ground will grow in a container.
Just about anything you can grow in the ground will grow in a container. Tribune News Service

We talk a lot on my television series, Growing a Greener World, about edible gardening. We’ve featured people all over the country growing food in some really unusual places, from rooftops, to converted school buses, and even on and along walls. And from our experience, there is one thing we know for sure: You do not need a lot of space to grow it.

In fact, just about anything that will grow in the ground can grow in a container. All you need is some sort of container appropriately sized for the roots. Moreover, even those of us who have plenty of room to grow in large plots or beds will benefit from container grown vegetables and fruit as well.

There are many reasons container grown food makes sense. Over decades of gardening, here are my five biggest reasons to do so.

▪ More control over the conditions and quality of the soil and light conditions. If you want to grow something like blueberries that have very specific soil requirements, you can grow them in a container and adjust the soil conditions to exactly what they need. And it is much easier to keep it that way when you only have to amend the small amount of soil within the pot. Or, if your native soil is very heavy or sandy, containers provide a place to make it just right. And if something you want to grow needs more light, you simply pick up your container and move it to a new spot (or put it on casters and roll it).

▪ Less disease and fewer pests. By using a bagged, commercial potting or container mix, you are much less likely to introduce soil-borne pathogens to the plants. And since the soil is protected on most sides, pests that live in soil have much less chance of finding the roots where many of the problems start.

▪ Easy design. Fill empty spots in your landscape, dress up a blank wall, create a focal point, or add punch right where you want it. Perhaps a crop is harvested and you are left with a large empty space in the middle of your vegetable garden or flowerbed. You can place containers there and instantly give your garden a lush, full look again. Or if you have an unused corner of your property, a grouping of containers can fill that spot without committing to anything permanent.

▪ Convenience and flexibility. Growing in containers allows you to bring the plants closer to you. For example, I have a large vegetable garden that offers ample room to grow whatever I want. Last year I grew lots of edibles and my most commonly used herbs.

But every night when I needed fresh herbs for whatever I was cooking, I had a long walk to the garden. With every trip to harvest, I found myself thinking I needed to bring the herbs closer to me. Now, I have all my favorite herbs just a few steps away from the kitchen, happily growing in containers. They also look fantastic by the door we use countless times each day.

With containers, I also enjoy the freedom to move containers about on a whim. I love placing some on stands to add height, moving others forward or back, rotating pots every few days to even out sun exposure. It’s also fun to play with different combinations of plants and containers as I tweak their location. You simply can’t do this with plants in the ground.

▪ No space limitations. Perhaps of greatest importance for many is that gardening in containers allows us to grow in even the smallest of spaces. Keep in mind, no matter how large our overall property, we all have small spaces that need dressing up, from areas with absolutely no soil at all, like a balcony or patio, to larger gardens that may have an open or unused spot. Think of them as outdoor rooms that need furniture and accessories. Containers are the most versatile resource to solve many design challenges while providing a much needed resource.

Joe Lamp’l is the host and executive producer of ‘Growing a Greener World’ on national public television, and the founder of The joe gardener® Company, devoted to environmentally responsible gardening and sustainable outdoor living.