Container gardening for northern climates

Information sheet

Container gardening will enable any setting to grow herbs and vegetables without needing a garden or allotment.

  • School term: Early Autumn, Late Autumn, Late Spring, Early Summer
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science, PSHE

The advantages of container gardening

  • Containers can be sited close to the classroom, reducing problems of supervision
  • They are small and maneagable so children can care for them easily and even take them home for the holidays
  • Smaller containers can be started indoors and transferred outside when the weather improves
  • Containers that are accessible for everyone can be used
  • Growing in containers enables you to grow plants that are unsuitable for your school soil, such as blueberries that need ericaceous (acid) soil
  • Containers can brighten up an area or be used to disguise 'eyesores'
  • There is less chance of pest damage in containers

The disadvantages of container gardening

  • Containers can dry out easily so need watering and feeding more frequently
  • They are easy for intruders to steal
  • Only small quantities of vegetables can be grown in containers, so match the size of the crop to the container
  • Pots can restrict plant growth. This can also be an advantage making some plants a more manageable size

Vegetables to grow in containers

April onwards

Carrot Short varieties are best such as 'Rondo' and 'Paris Market'
Lettuce Mixed leaves, Lambs lettuce. Start in late March and sow thinly. Cut as soon as the leaves are a reasonable size (5-6cm)
Onion 'White Lisbon', 'Purplette' Sow thinly between other crops
Peas 'Early Onward', Sugar snap Sow in a circle and make a wigwam with canes
Potato 'Pink fir apple' Plant mid to late March,'Charlotte' chit from mid March ready to plant in April, 15cm deep at the bottom of a container. Cover leaves with compost as they emerge and be sure to protect leaves from late frost.
Summer Cabbage 'Greyhound', 'Minicole' Plant out after about 4 weeks, 30cm apart. (Protect from pigeons and other birds!)
Tomatoes - Hanging basket variety 'Tumbling Toms', bush variety 'Red Alert', 'Montello'

May onwards

Beetroot 'Detroit', 'Boltardy', 'Forono'
Cavolo Nero
French climbing beans 'Goldfield', 'Barlotta Lingua di Fuoco 2'
Swiss chard 'Bright Lights'
Courgette 'All Green Bush'
Pumpkin 'Halloween'
Squash 'Turks Turban'
Herbs, strawberries and many edible flowers are also suitable for growing in containers.

Please note: Tomatoes, french beans, courgettes, pumpkin and squash are all tender and will not survive frost - remember to watch out for the weather and protect them as young plants.

Types of readymade containers

  • Grow bags
  • Various pots and troughs in plastic or terracotta
  • Plant bags
  • Hanging baskets
  • Window boxes

Recycled containers

  • Old boots/shoes
  • Bricks with holes
  • Old pots, pans, colanders etc
  • Tin cans
  • Baskets or wooden crates
  • Anything else with drainage holes

Important points to remember when container gardening

  • Containers not intended as plant pots may need drainage holes drilled into them
  • 'Holey' containers may need a lining of horticultural fleece or plastic netting such as shade cloth
  • Standing containers on bricks or tiles may avoid waterlogging
  • Where plants are permanent (for more than one year) use a soil based compost and a slow release fertiliser to keep them heathy

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