Green thumb in training

Pint-sized container gardens offer little gardeners big-time fun

Growing colourful flowers or tender veggies in containers is a great way to introduce children to gardening and give them a sense of accomplishment. Watching a morning glory unfurl, or waiting for that first tomato to turn from green to red, also provides a window to the larger world of nature. Best of all, container gardening doesn’t require oodles of time, space or money.

Getting started

Decide where your container garden will go Containers placed near an outdoor table or the kitchen door are more likely to get the regular watering and feeding they’ll need to grow throughout the season. Most flowering plants need at least half a day of sun — and morning sun is preferable to afternoon.

Pick your pot Larger containers have more space for a variety of plants, and hold more soil, which means less frequent watering. Make sure the container has at least one drainage hole.

The dirt on dirt Purchase a packaged soil mix labelled “container soil,” “potting soil” or “basket mix.” These are light sterile mixes designed to hold moisture and stay aerated — perfect conditions for healthy plant growth. Soil from your garden is too heavy and may harbour pests or diseases.
Choosing plants

• Look for plants that tolerate the light conditions you have — full sun, part sun/shade or full shade.

• Know how many plants you need. They look small in those little plastic cell packs, but they do grow! Plants destined for containers can be planted closer together than what’s recommended on the plant labels. For example, a 36 centimetre pot will hold six to eight flowering annuals.

• Growing plants from seeds is slower and can be fussier (depending on the plant), but will seem magical to a child. Some of the easiest and fastest plants to grow from seed include morning glory vines, runner bean vines and radishes.

Pots + soil + plants + water = good messy fun

1. Start with clean pots and place a square of fibreglass screening, newspaper or coffee filter on the inside to cover the drainage hole. Don’t use gravel or pot shards in the bottom; these impede drainage rather than improve it.
2. Add moist soil up to a few centimetres below the pot rim.
3. Plant tall varieties in the centre or back of the container, with medium ones in front of these, and let trailing plants spill over the edge.
4. After all plants are positioned, gently water to settle the soil.
5. Adjust the soil level so it’s a centimetre or two below the pot rim.
6. If the container is easy to move, place it in the shade for a few days until the young plants acclimatize to their new surroundings.

Care and feeding

• Water your container garden when the top few centimetres of soil are dry. Give enough water to moisten soil from top
to bottom.

• Container plants prefer frequent but gentle feedings. Feed every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for outdoor flowers or vegetables, diluting it by at least twice the amount recommended on the package.

• Remind your child not to taste plants without your supervision. Many plants and plant parts are toxic (for example, rhubarb stalks are edible, but their leaves are poisonous), and nursery-grown transplants may have been sprayed with fungicides or pesticides.

Best bets

Flowering plants Choose hearty varieties that bloom throughout the season. Try: geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, salvias, snapdragons, verbena, zinnias.

Vines These are exciting container plants because they grow so fast. Provide a climbing structure, such as an obelisk or teepee, made from bamboo stakes tied at the top with twine. Try: morning glory, nasturtium, runner beans, sweet peas.

Fragrant plants Scented flowers add another dimension to a container garden. Try: heliotrope, pansies, petunias, sweet alyssum, sweet peas.

Butterfly and hummingbird favourites Bright-coloured tubular flowers attract hummingbirds; butterflies like nectar-rich blooms. Try: calendula, fuchsia, nasturtium, verbena.

Edibles Choose varieties your child likes to eat, as well as those that are disease resistant. Try: cherry tomatoes, green onions, mixed lettuces.

Herbs They require less fertilizing and watering than most flowers and vegetables, and they thrive when snipped on a regular basis for salads, garnishes and entrees. Try: basil, chives, mint, oregano, sage, thyme.

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