With an ever-increasing population density, not everyone has access to a home garden plot but may still have a desire to grow their own food. Container gardening is the answer and is often accomplished in lightweight portable plastic containers. However, we are hearing more and more concerning the safety of plastics in regard to our health. So, when growing plants in plastic containers, are they really safe to use?
The simple answer to this question is, of course. Durability, lightweight, flexibility and strength are some advantages of growing plants in plastic containers. Plastic pots and containers are excellent choices for moisture loving plants, or for those of us who are less than regular with irrigation.
They are made in every color of the rainbow and are usually made of inert material, often recycled. This is not always the case, however. With recent concerns over plastics containing Bisphenol A (BPA), many people are wondering if plants and plastic are a safe combination.
There is much disagreement over the use of plastics in growing food. The fact remains that most commercial growers employ plastic in one form or another when growing crops. You have the plastic pipes that irrigate crops and greenhouses, plastics used for covering crops, plastics used in row cropping, plastic mulches and even plastics that are used when growing organic food crops.
While neither proven nor disproven, scientists do agree that BPA is a rather large molecule compared to the ions which a plant absorbs, so it is unlikely it can be passed through the cell walls of the roots into the plant itself.
Science says that gardening with plastic is safe, but if you still have some concerns there are a few things you can do to make sure you are using plastic safely.
First, use plastics that are free from BPA and other potentially harmful chemicals. All plastic containers sold have recycling codes on them that make it easy to help you locate which plastic is the safest for use around the home and garden. Look for plastic packaging that is labeled with a #1, #2, #4 or #5. For the most part, many of your plastic gardening pots and containers will be #5, but recent advances in plastics means that there may be some plastic containers available in other recycling codes. Paying attention to recycling codes is especially important if you are reusing plastic containers from other products which can be manufactured in a wide range of recycling code.
Second, keep your plastic containers from overheating. Potentially harmful chemicals like BPA are most significantly released when plastic becomes heated, so keeping your plastic cool will help reduce the potential for chemical release. Keep your plastic containers out of intense sunlight and, when possible, opt for light colored containers.
Third, use potting mediums that have a high amount of organic material. Not only does potting medium with lots of organic material stay soft and keep your plants healthy, it will also act like a filtering system that will help to catch and collect the chemicals so less of them make it to the roots.
If, after all this, you still feel concerned about the use of plastic to grow plants, you can always opt to not use plastic in your garden. You can use the more traditional clay and ceramic container, recycle glass and paper containers from your home or opt to use the relatively new fabric containers that are available.
In conclusion, most scientists and professional growers believe that growing in plastic is safe. You should feel comfortable growing in plastic. But, of course, this is a personal choice and you can take steps to further reduce any concerns you might have about plastic pots and containers in your garden.
Have you been thinking about growing a small container garden? If so, check out this system that is not only super cost-effective, but it will also reward you with a wonderful abundance of vegetables and herbs in a small amount of space.
Let me start off by saying that I am clearly no gardener, or at least I wasn't until last summer. I think what finally convinced me it was time to dabble in a small garden was grabbing a few yellow peppers at the grocery store, which and were over $2 a piece. I like peppers. I like tomatoes. I love cucumbers. However, I really dislike having to pay so much in order to eat fresh vegetables.
The main difference between container and garden plantings is that you'll need to water containers more often--small containers may need watering twice a day during hot, sunny weather. And because the roots are confined and can't go searching for nutrients, you'll need to provide regular feedings. A weekly application of a balanced liquid fertilizer, such as a seaweed/fish emulsion mix, should suffice.
And you'll need to keep an eye out for insect and disease problems. While container-grown plants are sometimes less vulnerable to pest attack, because they receive extra attention and pampering, you'll want to examine the foliage, flowers, and fruit regularly. Many insects can be controlled with an occasional spray of insecticidal soap. Some insects, such as aphids, can be kept in check by simply hosing them off the plants every few days.
Matching Containers to Plants
You might choose the plants first, then look for containers that will suit them, or you can start with the container and choose plants to complement the shape and color. You can create a lively mix of brightly-colored pots in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, or stick with a simple theme and let the flowers grab all the attention.
Annual flowers, with their compact root systems and short life span, can be grown in almost any container, providing it has adequate drainage. They're the best choice for window boxes, hanging planters, and wire and moss baskets. Annuals are also appropriate for planters that might be damaged by winter weather--at the end of the season, you can remove what's left of the plants, clean the containers, and store them in a safe place for the winter.
Perennials do best in relatively large containers. Wood and weatherproof plastic planters are good choices. In regions with mild winters, you can use clay pots however, in cold regions these are likely to crack as the soil in them freezes and expands.
If you've purchased transplants or started your own seeds indoors, harden off the plants before planting them into their permanent container. It's much easier to move small flats around as you gradually expose the plants to outdoor conditions. If you're planting seeds, follow the guidelines on the seed packet to determine planting dates. You can move the planting date up by a week or two if your can move your containers to a sheltered spot if a cold snap threatens.
For perennials, it's a good idea to follow the recommended spacing. However, annuals can be packed in a little more tightly than you would in the open garden, to create a nice, full look.
What says summer like an overflowing basket of pink petunias, or a windowbox filled with bright red geraniums? Most gardeners begin their foray into container gardening with baskets and boxes of colorful annual flowers. And with good reason: Annual flowers are readily available, reasonably priced, and easy to care for, and provide the most "bang for the buck" of all container plants.
Annuals or Perennials?
What's the difference between the two? Botanically speaking, annual flowers complete their life cycle in one growing season. They sprout in the spring, grow foliage, then produce flowers and finally seeds. Once the plants have produced mature seeds, their mission is accomplished and they die.
Perennials also produce flowers and seeds, but don't die at the end of the growing season. Their above-ground parts die back, but their roots overwinter, and the plants resprout in the spring. Some perennials are relatively short-lived lupines and primroses, for example, may live for only 2 to 5 years, though the seed they drop often produces new plants. Daylilies and coreopsis, on the other hand, can live for decades (though they'll need dividing every few years to remain vigorous).
Which should you plant? Let's look at some general characteristics of annuals and perennials.
So, should you plant annuals or perennials? The answer depends on what you hope to get from your planting. If you want consistent color all season long, annuals are the way to go. If you enjoy watching the seasons unfold as various plants enter their peak bloom period, and you're willing to do some annual maintenance chores, then a carefully selected mix of perennials will fit the bill.
There are literally hundreds of different annuals and perennials from which to choose. Check out our Plants Database for almost endless options.
A rule of thumb for choosing containers for container gardening: Square, rectangular, or cylindrical containers need less frequent watering than tapered pots.
Tapered pots have more soil at the top of the pot, where it dries out quickly. Square, rectangular, or cylindrical containers have more soil volume in the lower half of the container, where it retains moisture better. In essence, the top 6вЂќ (15cm) of soil acts as a mulch for the soil below, holding in moisture.
Vegetables grown in straight-sided containers also tend to have healthier, more vigorous root systems.Plant roots generally follow water downward, instead of running laterally along the surfaceвЂ”especially when the surface dries out frequently, as it does in container vegetable gardens.
In selecting containers for container gardening, bear in mind that the top 2вЂќ (5cm) of potting soil is often wasted. The main plant roots usually start 2-3вЂќ (5-8cm) down into the soil. This вЂњwastedвЂќ soil volume is higher in pots that fan outward toward the top than it is in straight-sided pots or window boxes.
USING RECYCLED PLASTIC CONTAINERS
Its a common perception that all plastics are harmful to grow food in and should be avoided completely. Some people saying that using plastics to grow vegetables and fruits defeats the very idea of growing naturally or organically. Though it is true that plastic products are not natural, what will landless people use to grow their own food? They can opt to buy inexpensive plastic pots sure, but that would be spending more money, and most people grow their own food to save money. Re-using plastic containers is cheaper and it gives the object one more use before being recycled.
There are other materials that can be used of course, like wooden pallets but sometimes supplies are not always available and they don’t last very long. Using plastic containers to grow food is fine – provided you know which plastics to use. Some plastics are harmful and leach toxins to the soil especially when they are heated or exposed to sunlight or prolonged periods of time. Make sure to discard scratched or worn down plastic containers to avoid leaching of chemicals.
Common plastic containers used for growing:
1 – Clear plastic bottles
2 – “Cloudy” milk and water jugs, opaque food bottles.
4 – Food storage bags and squeeze bottles.
5 – Rigid containers, including some baby bottles, and some cups and bowls, containers usually used for yogurt.
3 – Vinyl, some ‘soft’ bottles and commercial cling wraps
6 – Polysterene, styrofoam, plastic wrap, un-numbered plastics