Issue: February 10, 2007
Container gardens are mobile
I rent a small house with a yard full of rocks. I like to garden, but I don't have permission to start landscaping and gardening here. Besides lack of permission, I don't want to create a garden that I will have to leave when I can finally afford my own home. What is the best solution for my predicament?
Mobility of these gardens will be an important factor initially. However, choose pots that are as large as you can move with a hand truck or other wheeled assistance. Large soil volumes will result in less rapid drying and better plant development. Smaller pots are appropriate for plants that will grow well in smaller soil volumes.
You will find that the mobility of the gardens has benefits even when you are not moving to a new home. Containers can be relocated easily as landscape needs change. Containers allow tailoring the landscape to specific landscape events. If there will be a patio party, containers may be relocated to the patio (and perhaps entrance to the home). Then, after the party, they may be returned to more dispersed settings. This isn't possible with in-ground gardens.
As seasons change, containers can be moved to optimum locations for plant growth. In the heat of summer, plants needing additional shade can be moved to shadier locations. In the winter some favored container gardens may be moved indoors to prolong their beauty as houseplants. Dormant plants that could not survive the winter outside may survive until spring in a container moved into the garage.
Container gardens may be ornamental gardens consisting of flowering plants, small shrubs, ornamental grasses, or mixtures of these plants. They may also be a mobile vegetable garden. Many vegetable plants will grow well in large containers. The fact that they can be moved to sunny locations in early spring, places sheltered from wind when necessary, to shady locations in the heat of summer, and, finally, indoors in the fall and winter make them very productive vegetable gardens. The ability to create different soils in different containers allows you to have collections of plants that would not be otherwise possible in New Mexico soils.
Plastic pots are often very colorful and exhibit less evaporative water loss than terra cotta pots. If you prefer terra cotta or other pots made from natural materials, that is OK, but they may need to be watered more frequently. Your container gardens may be watered by hand with a garden hose or watering can if you enjoy watering plants for relaxation. However, if you prefer, drip irrigation systems can be adapted to container gardens.
A final advantage to container gardens is that the soil in each container garden can be engineered to provide the best fit for the plants in each garden. In-ground garden soil can be amended to modify that soil, but it is very difficult to achieve the same degree of soil engineering as in containers.
Container gardens are beautiful, mobile, functional, and very appropriate for New Mexico landscapes. They also solve the problem faced by temporary residents who will need to move their gardens.
The reason this is good practice is that it loosens the soil deeply, encouraging deeper penetration of rain and irrigation water. This encourages deeper rooting by garden plants and a healthier plant more able to resist the heat of our summers. The fact that gardens are usually near a home or other structure means that the garden soil starts as compacted soil. Construction equipment used to build the structure often compacts the soil by driving over it during construction. This compacted soil tends to shed rain water and irrigation. Plant roots do not easily penetrate compacted soil (even if the soil can be moistened). Double digging overcomes the compaction due to construction. A rototiller or plow that loosens the soil to double the depth of a shovel can be used to accomplish the same thing if there is room for such equipment at the garden site.
Some garden authors recommend gardening without digging. The authors of these books recommend letting the earthworms and winter freezing and thawing loosen the soil. They object to "damaging" the soil's structure by plowing or digging. In our soils, especially soils already damaged by compaction, digging is necessary. Once the soil has been developed, their procedures may be appropriate. You must determine for yourself, in your particular garden soil and local environment, if digging is beneficial after the soil has been developed by a few years of gardening.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!