Happy Spring! Before you run off to your local garden center to stock up on garden supplies, learn from fellow rawkstar + garden consultant Nicole Burke of Rooted Garden. She created this article (and gorgeous pics) just for us… her fellow SGS rawkstars! Her advice is sure to keep your plants healthy, happy, and bountiful so you can start adding these rawkstar greens to your meals + smoothies ASAP!
5 Pro Tips for Indoor and Patio Gardens
Photos and article by Nicole Burke of Rooted Garden
‘I’m no good at gardening. I can’t even keep a potted plant alive.’
As a garden designer and consultant, I hear these words a lot. It seems that the spoiled laundry and overcooked dinner aren’t a big deal, but we shame ourselves over killing a plant or two (or twenty).
When a client admits their devastation over a dead potted plant, I explain that container gardening is more difficult than growing in the ground. Vegetable plants are accustomed to a connection with the earth. When temperatures rise, water is scarce, or soil minerals decrease, plants can stretch their roots to connect with resources further underground.
Not so for a potted plant.
So, if you’d like to grow indoors or on a patio, set the laundry and soup aside so you can tend to your plants a little more. Put the memory of those dead plants behind you and consider five things as you plan a potted garden: the container, soil, sunlight, temperature and air flow, and water access.
1) When choosing a container, make sure it’s food safe.
Nicole loves growing in glass, unglazed terra cotta, steel buckets and untreated cedar. She also recommends that you consider the depth of the planter compared to the root system of your plant. For instance, parsley, cilantro, and dill have tap roots that like to grow deep while lettuces have very shallow root systems. Make sure the pot depth and plant’s roots are a match. Also, be sure to drill a drainage hole in the container or place a layer of gravel in the bottom if a hole isn’t possible.
2) It’s all about the dirt!
Don’t just shovel up some brown stuff from the yard. Growing in a container means that the soil must provide all the required nutrients, drain quickly and also retain enough water to sustain the plant. Nicole's recommendation for a container is a soilless mix of sustainably harvested peat moss or coconut coir, sand and compost (her favorite potting mix is from Good Dirt). As your plants grow, stay clear of fertilizers chemicals you can’t pronounce. Instead, use a compost tea, worm castings, or fish emulsion every few weeks to encourage your plants to keep on keeping on.
3) Once your plant is potted, give it some sun.
If indoors, choose a spot with the most sunlight possible. If outdoors, choose a full sun spot for fruiting plants and one with more shade for greens or herbs. If pots are drying out too quickly or appear scorched, move them to a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade.
4) Keep temperature in mind.
Some like it hot and some do not, so note the average temperature range for your plants. Herbs like dill, parsley, and cilantro are cooler weather herbs while basil and rosemary enjoy the heat. Lettuce and kale plants like 60 to 70 degrees and tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans like it over 80. If your plants are indoors, make sure there is good airflow around the plant with open windows or blowing fans. Can’t swing it? Lightly brush your plants as you walk by and place them outdoors for a period whenever possible.
5) Don't forget the H₂O.
Because your plants can’t wag their tails like thirsty puppies, we often don’t realize they need water until it’s too late. If you can set up an automatic system for watering, the likelihood of plant survival goes way up. For patio gardens, buy a timer and set up tubing that will provide small sprayers for each pot or planter. Ollahs are terracotta pots that can be filled with water for slow evaporation. If indoors, fill a water or wine bottle with water and turn it upside down in the pot. If leaves are turning yellow, the plant’s receiving too much or too little water. Check the soil’s moisture by inserting your finger to the first joint. If the soil feels slightly wet, you’re good. If soaking, too much and if dry, too little.
WHAT TO GROW
Summer herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and mint are great for patio containers. (No need to do all at once—if you want to get things started with just one potted herb plant, that is beyond awesome!) Once you get the hang of things, you can also up your container gardening game with lettuce, bush pea and bean plants, and trays of microgreens. Fruiting plants like tomatoes and cucumbers are possible but can be demanding with staking, pruning and heavy fertilizing. If you’re feeling like a pro, go for these. Otherwise, start out with some pots of herbs, and work your way up to greens + beans.
YOU'VE GOT THE GOODS, NOW HOW TO USE THEM?
To up your container growing confidence, I recommend starting with a tray of microgreens, or pots of herbs or lettuce. Microgreens are vegetables planted closely together and harvested once the first true leaves appear. Lettuces in early spring and fall and summer herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and mint are great for patio containers. Bush pea and bean plants grow really well in containers too. Fruiting plants like tomatoes and cucumbers are possible but can be demanding with staking, pruning and heavy fertilizing. If you’re feeling like a pro, go for these. Otherwise, start with greens and beans.
So you’ve killed a few potted plants in your day? Join the club. You’ve got what gardeners like to call, ‘experience.’ So shake off that plant killing shame, put your gloves back on and plant up some herbs and kale this season. I’ll be here in my own garden (avoiding the laundry) and cheering for you. — Nicole