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Posts Tagged ‘planters’

Heber Dreher’s Garden

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Sunbury Daily Item, the newspaper for which I write about gardening, cooking, and most recently, about being a victim of pancreatic cancer. Here’s a link to the Daily Item’s website.

Heber Dreher in his garden

Heber Dreher stands next to one of his many planters. “Consider the lighting where you’ll set a planter: Full sun? Partial shade? Full shade? Select plants accordingly. Determine the ‘front’ of the planter and put shorter plants there; don’t let tall plants overshadow short ones.”

I have the good fortune to be friends with a gardening enthusiast named Heber Dreher. He lives in Lewisburg on Edward Circle, and his yard is fabulous. I asked if he’d let me photograph his gardens and capture some thoughts about his methods. We spent a few hours chatting the other day.

Heber acknowledges a professional landscaping company can deliver an attractive garden, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. But if you won’t have time or motivation to care for the garden, include a maintenance contract in your budget. Commit yourself or your landscaper to control weeds, prune, clean things up in autumn, prepare beds and plant in spring, and replace failed plants. “If you don’t maintain a garden,” Heber warns, “It’s going to look bad soon.”

Whether doing the work yourself or hiring a landscaper, Heber suggests you start by learning some basics on your own. For example, know your hardiness zone and refuse plants rated for warmer zones. “Pay attention to cold hardiness of plants your landscaper installs,” Heber suggests. “Make decisions with your contractor. They make more money when you call them to replace poorly-chosen plants that fail in a cold winter.”

Photos provide a virtual walk in my friend’s garden. Each includes a thought Heber offers about his passion for his craft.

Heber Dreher's front entrance walk

Heber has created intense drama on the path from his driveway to the front door of his house. “Use perennials with different shades of green to make the garden interesting,” he suggests. For other colors, he stages flowering perennials whose blooms may or may not be short-lived, and he mixes in annuals that tend to bloom steadily through the season.

Heber Dreher's patio and koi pond

Immediately out the door from Heber’s kitchen, a brick patio features a koi pond with a low waterfall. “I wanted a plant that would fill in the cracks around the pond’s edge. Evergreen Pachysandra worked out beautifully.” Low trees, tall perennials, and tropical plants isolate the patio, providing a place to relax with drinks or an unhurried meal.

Inviting garden path

A stone path leads from the patio, through foliage, to the lawn. “I’m planting much more in containers than I used to,” Heber says. “Container plants require less water, they’re easier to fertilize, easier to control, and it’s easier to preserve tropical plants such as Elephant Ears and Canna Lilies indoors in winter. Another advantage: you can redesign your garden mid-season simply by moving planters from place-to-place.”

Bonsai in the garden

A cul-de-sac in Heber’s lawn ends with bonsai trees on pedestals rising above a dense mix of perennials. Heber encourages you not just to start digging. Rather: plan. “Learn what you like then plan your own garden. Learn enough so you can be relatively sure the pieces of your design will work together.” He suggests not to do too big a first project. “It can be overwhelming.”

Small Kitchen Garden – Heber Dreher’s Garden

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Rotten News About Cheap Planters

The reusable shopping bags available at the grocery store in Lewisburg are dramatically more biodegradable than the flimsy plastic bags they put your groceries in if you don’t have your own bags. I’d expect the environmentally responsible reusable bag to be nearly indestructible… and I’d build the “decays in ultraviolet light” formulation into the flimsy bags the store practically gives away.

Your Small Kitchen Garden is about growing food in limited space. In that spirit, I’ve posted a few articles about container gardening and I’ve shared some experiments I’ve done with very inexpensive planters. My favorite of all small kitchen garden planters this year was the reusable shopping bag that has become a symbol of the green movement.

You find these shopping bags in many grocery and department stores. Where I live, you can buy a reusable shopping bag at a grocery store for 99 cents, or at Walmart for about 60 cents.

I have some sad news: Those low-cost, ultra-strong, reusable shopping bags may be particularly sensitive to ultraviolet light. Mine are.

Advantages to Shopping Bag Container Gardening

I like those reusable shopping bags for several reasons:

  • A shopping bag is very inexpensive for a planter of its size
  • A shopping bag is quite large; it will hold about five gallons of soil.
  • A shopping bag is easy to modify; you can cut holes in it with little effort
  • A shopping bag has built-in handles by which you can hang it easily.
  • A shopping bag is lightweight but still strong enough to hold many pounds of soil and water.
  • A shopping bag is permeable; excess water soaks through and drips away.

My friend, Kerry Michaels, who produces a blog about container gardening was also taken by the notion of using reusable grocery bags as planters. By mid-July, she had written several posts about her experiences with them (see Unusual Container Garden for her latest), and was happy with their performance.

After about six weeks of hanging in the sun, the reusable bags I used as planters developed obvious thin spots.

The Sad Truth about Shopping Bag Planters

My shopping bag planters are disintegrating. I noticed nearly two months ago that thin spots were developing in the fabric. More recently, whole sections of the bags have simply crumbled away; there are very large holes in my hanging shopping bag planters. On the other hand, the planters that sit on my deck look as fresh as the day I bought them.

I suspect that the deck planters are breaking down just as the hanging ones are, but the deck planters aren’t stretched by the weight of their load so the degraded fabrics isn’t cracking and crumbling as it does on the hanging planters.

After about three months in the sun, my hanging planter reusable shopping bags are a bit scary. Will they make it through the growing season or will the fabric decay so much that the bags tear loose from their handles and plummet to the lawn? I would not want such planters hanging on a balcony over a sidewalk.

Should you use Grocery Bags as Planters?

Given the bags’ apparent sensitivity to light, they aren’t ideal candidates for planters. But I must point out a few “other hands:”

1. The bags I purchased may have a different formulation from bags you can buy. Kerry Michaels hasn’t reported problems with her reusable grocery bags, so I hold out hope that many brands of these bags are not vulnerable to ultraviolet light. (It’s a slap in the faces of environmentally-responsible shoppers that the once-and-done flimsy plastic bags at the local grocery store may be so much less biodegradable than the hefty, reusable bags for which shoppers pay extra.)

I love the look of sweet potato vines growing from a reusable grocery bag planter on my deck. The greens and subtle purples in the leaves are gorgeous, and the bag adds a slightly humorous touch. Perhaps the sweet potato leaves have protected the bag from serious sun damage. I hope to be able to plant in this bag again next season.

2. Reusable grocery bags are still crazy inexpensive. A five-gallon nursery bag—a bag made of heavy black plastic—costs about 90 cents. I’m willing to bet a lot of those bags enjoy only one growing season before going in the trash.

3. If the grocery bag is light-sensitive, it can make a great planter in situations where the planter itself sits in the shade. For container gardening, this isn’t a bad practice anyway: if your containers get full, direct sunlight, the soil temperature inside can rise enough to kill roots. As well, direct sunlight makes the soil in a planter dry out quickly. Ideally, (at least during the summer) the planter remains in the shade and just the stems and leaves of the plants rise into sunlight.

So, I’ll continue to use grocery bags as planters. To that end, I’ll shop around the grocery chains and department stores nearby in hopes of finding a bag that doesn’t crumble to dust when hanging in direct sunlight. If all I find are light-sensitive, I’ll reserve them as deck planters, or come up with ways to hang them so the bags themselves don’t receive direct sunlight.


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Soda Bottle Carrots: a Very Small Kitchen Garden

Seventeen days after I planted carrots in a sawed-off soda bottle, young carrot tops had sprouted on the windowsill in my basement.

I encourage people who have little space that they can still grow small kitchen gardens. To that end, on May 1st I cut the top off of a two-liter soda bottle, filled the bottle with soil, and planted carrots in it. I described this project in a post titled Small Kitchen Garden Carrots in Containers. I mentioned my container carrots again on May 18, and again on June 17. It has been an interesting project, and I encourage you to try it. I want to relate what to expect.

Mature Container Carrots

After three months of growing, a carrot of nearly any variety should be mature. By “mature” I mean the carrot plant has sent up a flower stalk and is making seeds. I would rather eat an immature carrot than I would one that has flowers. In fact, I’ve only let my carrots flower once, and I vowed that season never again to do so.

After three months of growth, my container carrots have pathetic tops. These are no better than a third the height of my in-ground carrots. I planted the in-ground carrots fully a month after the soda bottle carrots; and woodchucks have dined twice on the in-ground carrot tops.

So, my container carrots—a variety that matures in 65 days—ought to be dropping seeds all over my deck. That’s hardly the case. Rather, the carrot tops started to look stressed some time in June, and now they look very stressed. These stressed plants have very short tops compared to free-range carrot plants. Those tops have fewer fronds than my in-ground carrots do, and many of the carrot fronds are turning yellow or purple or some other color that isn’t green.

The good news is that those sickly-looking carrot tops protrude from very pronounced orange carrot shoulders. It should follow that there are whole carrots in the soil beneath those shoulders, albeit rather small carrots.

Pushing Plants

When my container carrots started to look bad, I took some steps to pep them up: I pulled a carrot to provide a bit more space in the soil (I’d planted 11 seeds). I also made a mixture of compost and water and poured it into the carrot container to provide an infusion of nutrients. The carrot plants weren’t impressed.

So, I decided that the container carrots are done: there are too many carrots growing in too small a space. I harvested them to put the poor things out of their misery. My suspicions about crowding were oh so right: I shook the soil out of the planter, and it came out in a cylindrical brick. You could use several hundred of these carrot planter bricks to build a small sod house.

The good news: my soda bottle carrot plants have shoulders!

The largest carrots were only four inches long, but it’s clear they would not have grown longer. Regardless, they taste grand as all fresh, young carrots do.

More Small Kitchen Garden Carrots

This carrot experiment was very satisfying. You know what I did? I cut the top off of a three-liter soda bottle, filled it with soil, and planted some carrot seeds in it. This time, I planted fewer seeds… in a bigger container. There may be only 70 days remaining in our growing season, but I’m hoping to get bigger carrots from this planter than I got from the first one.

If I don’t? No matter. It’s still likely to produce a handful of three-bite carrot snacks. Not bad for such a small kitchen garden.

As my soda bottle carrots slide out of the planter, I feel considerable heat in the soil. I’ve often touched the side of the planter to gauge whether it was overheating in direct sunlight, but it has never felt as hot as the soil does in my hand. I suspect being pot-bound was only half the stress my carrots experienced. The insulating plastic of the soda bottle concealed from me the extent of the greenhouse effect taking place around the carrots’ roots. The root ball has me musing about growing pre-formed sod bricks… it would be so much easier than cutting them out of prairie grass.


I always marvel that so much of what matters in life involves dirt. No, OK, I’m a purist: I grow food in soil. But when soil ends up on your hands, your clothing, your kitchen floor, or YOUR FOOD, it’s dirt. These little snackers are sweet and delicious.

More thoughts on growing carrots in a small kitchen garden

  • Grow your own in local skips – Gardeners are being encouraged to grow carrots in skips on building sites and tomatoes in hospital car parks under new plans to increase the amount of land available for grow-your-own vegetables. The Government is setting up a national …

  • How to Grow Carrots – How to grow carrots in the vegetable garden: fresh-carrots. carrots like a sunny spot; dig soil in autumn & break soil down to fine, crumbly seedbed before sowing. carrot-bed. sow outdoors from March to August – if in March cover with …


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Carrot Planter & Tomato Planter Updates

Who knew? Carrots grow extensive networks of thin roots before they grow the tap roots of which Bugs Bunny is so fond.

When I decided to experiment with growing a small kitchen garden in ultra-cheap planters, I hoped to come up with a few space-saving ideas that would be easy on my budget. I had no idea I’d learn something cool about carrots along the way: carrots make a lot of roots!

On May 1, I described how I modified a two-liter soda bottle, filled it with soil, and planted eleven carrot seeds in it. Seven weeks later, the carrot plants are growing well; their tops are beautifully lacy-green. You can read about it here: Small Kitchen Garden Carrots in Containers.

What’s Going Down?

In my fortyish years of growing carrots in a garden, to me these plants have always been green fluffy greens that grow atop orange shoulders just showing above the soil. At harvest, I’ve found smooth orange tap roots of various lengths, tapers, and diameters. One season, I left carrots in the ground well into winter. Along the way, flowers emerged much like those of Queen Anne’s Lace (carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace are closely related), and the plants put up a second wave of foliage. When I excavated these very mature carrots, I found many small roots growing from the plants’ tap roots. These mature carrots looked hairy, and somehow much less appetizing than younger, smooth-skinned carrots.

But you know what’s cool? Before a tap root forms, a carrot plant puts out a huge network of tiny roots. Who knew? You can see these roots through the clear side of the soda bottle planter in which my carrots are growing. The roots have been visible for about four weeks, and orange carrot shoulders have yet to appear at the bases of the foliage.

This upside down tomato plant supports the observation that roots want to grow down. When I planted the seedling, its root ball topped out about two-thirds of the way up inside the planter. A week later, though many roots are visible through the plastic, none appear above the root ball.

Of course, it makes perfect sense that the plant would need roots to get established before it built up its winter food supply in a tap root. Still, I’d never thought of this, so creating my silly soda bottle planter led to the pleasant surprise.

About Upside Down Tomatoes

When I wrote about growing tomatoes in upside down planters I predicted that roots would immediately start growing down from the root ball of the newly-planted seedling. Eventually, I guessed, an upside down tomato plant would become pot-bound even if there were many inches of soil available above the root ball in the container.

I don’t know whether I’m right about this, but I can report that all the root growth in the first week has been downward. How do I know? I followed instructions at (once you’re on the site, look in the left margin for the link to IPlanter Modified) for creating an upside down planter in a three-liter soda bottle. I set a tomato seedling in my planter and hung it up last week. Already, new roots have grown from the root ball out to the sides of the planter, and then down along the sides. No visible roots have grown upward. This may change as the plant becomes pot-bound, but I don’t expect it to.


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-Dirt Cheap Planters for a Small Kitchen Garden

Each week I take about seven gallon milk jugs to the recycling center. This year, a dozen or so will become planters instead. A few have been on my ping pong table for two weeks, and young pepper plants have just started to emerge. The planters won’t win a Garden Beautiful award, but the peppers will be sweeter for the money I’ve saved.

I hate to spend money on my small kitchen garden. Fundamentally, growing food involves burying seeds in soil and beating weeds, insects, and other pests out of the way until produce is ready to harvest. Any expense beyond the cost of seeds seems excessive.

Those who lack space for a traditional garden may feel doomed to spend money on containers, potting soil, and soil additives, and these can inflate the costs of growing produce. My last post, Containers for Your Small Kitchen Garden, explored types of containers available commercially to hold a garden on your patio, deck, porch, windowsill, or small yard. Those ranged in price from under a dollar up to $1,500. This post is about squeezing the most planter you can out of your gardening budget.

Don’t Shop the Garden Department

I did a survey of a local department store’s garden department. They have a wonderful selection of reasonably-priced planters. The price tag on a window box I liked asked for $9. Prices on deck boxes—square 5-gallon planters suitable for large vegetable plants such as tomatoes and squash—started at about $15.

I expect to set peppers in several milk jugs dressed up like this one. They hang perfectly between balusters so I can run them the length of the handrail. Because they hang below the rail, on a horizontal handrail, I can also install rail planters.

In other departments of the store, I found some lower-cost alternatives to planters. For example, plastic shoe boxes with covers cost about $1.75 per box. Two of these provide a bit less planting space than that $9 window box—but $9 of shoe boxes will grow way more vegetables than $9 of window box.

In other departments, I found buckets: wash buckets, paint buckets, and utility buckets. These all were less expensive than planters of corresponding sizes.

The point is, you can find dozens of containers whose prices are lower than those of flower pots and planters. But if you go this route, consider:

1. A storage container probably doesn’t have drainage holes in the bottom. Adding drainage holes is important especially if the containers will sit where they can catch rain. (During a particularly heavy rainstorm one year, soil was flowing over the tops of my deck planters which had filled with water. I braved the downpour to stab the planters with a hole punch so water would drain out the bottoms.)

In early May, this three-liter soda bottle will become an upside-down planter. I’ll cut off the bottle’s bottom, hang the bottle top-down, and insert a plant through the bottle’s neck. The resulting planter will be so small that it will require nearly daily watering and quite a bit of plant food to keep a tomato plant happy.

2. A storage container won’t come with—nor offer the option of buying—a fitted catch-saucer or tray. If your containers will sit outdoors where water spills don’t matter, you don’t need saucers under them. However, if you start plants in containers indoors and then move them out, you might wish you had saucers for them.

3. A plastic planter expects to spend much time in sunlight; a storage container or bucket doesn’t. The plastic of a storage container may be brittle to begin with, and could become more brittle with long-term exposure to sunlight. A $9 window box may significantly outlast a $1.75 plastic shoe box.

Spend Even Less

You probably throw out or recycle dozens of planters every year. Some obvious containers come to mind: yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream containers all will handle small plants; you can grow many types of herbs in them as long as you harvest often to keep the plants under control.

Finding free containers for larger loads requires a smidge of creativity. This year, I’m experimenting with 2- and 3-liter soft drink bottles, and one-gallon plastic milk jugs. I’m not the first to do this; links at the end of this post lead to other web sites with information about using milk jugs and soft drink bottles as planters.

To use these effectively, you need to alter them. Most simply, cut the tapered neck off a two-liter or three-liter soda bottle, poke holes in the bottom, and you have a deep planter that can handle many types of vegetables and herbs. I’ve done the same with gallon milk jugs, leaving the handles mostly intact.

Inspired by the Topsy Turvy upside down tomato planter, I’ve thought about hanging some plants this year. Sadly, a gallon milk jug is too small for most tomato varieties. Still, I’ve found I can hang milk jug planters easily from the handrail on my deck and leave the rail clear to hold a window-box-style planter. I’m going to grow peppers in these milk jugs.

I’m very excited about reusable grocery bags as planters. For 99 cents, you get a durable, semi-rigid bag with handles. I’ll put a hole in the bottom of the bag, plant a tomato pointing down, and hang the bag on the kids’ play set. With a 5-gallon capacity, the bag is big enough to handle beefsteak varieties of tomato plants.

I also found several schemes for converting a two- or three-liter soda bottle into an upside-down hanging planter, and I’m going to set some plants out this way in early May. The last link at the end of this post is to a web site that describes the scheme I plan to use (once at that site, find the topic IPlanter Modified in the left margin, and click to view the instructions). I believe it was a comment on that web site where I stumbled across a great suggestion for holding down costs on planters: Get a green (reusable) grocery bag.

Where I shop, a reusable bag costs 99 cents. This bag is durable and flexible—and will hold nearly five gallons of stuff. Filled with soil, a reusable shopping bag will hold its shape and handle even the largest annual vegetable plants. But these should also make great upside-down planters: Cut a hole in the bottom of the bag, push the root ball of a young tomato plant through, add soil and water, and hang the bag by its handles. I’ll be trying this in early May, and will document it in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog. If you’re short on space and strapped for cash, pick up some reusable shopping bags and hang them where the sun shines.

Please enjoy these other articles about low-cost planters:

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Containers for Your Small Kitchen Garden

You can find gorgeous porcelain, stone, concrete, and other planters to dress up your small kitchen garden. These will range in price from tens of dollars to more than $1,000. This porcelain five-gallon planter is available from in Your Small Kitchen Garden store.

When a small kitchen garden must live in containers, people typically start with flower pots and other planters bought at garden stores and department stores. These are usually good choices because most manufacturers make planters that are durable and that provide adequate drainage. What’s more, many designs have garden themes and some fit well into typical settings (for example, you can find deck and rail planters shaped to saddle handrails—the design provides stability so you’re not likely to knock such a planter off the rail).

An Expensive Small Kitchen Garden

The down side of commercially-available planters is their expense. A planter that holds two or three gallons of soil can cost from $15 up to $1,400, depending on how fancy it is. If you’re matching planters to your décor, or trying to make a garden design statement, you can find a large selection of gorgeous containers.

The Topsy Turvy planter grows tomatos upside down. Hang the planter, insert the root ball of a young plant through the bottom of the bag, add soil and water, and you’ll reduce the hassles of growing tomatoes. This is one of the hanging planters available from in Your Small Kitchen Garden store.

More modestly, you can find rugged, attractive plastic or fiberglass planters at department stores and on line. The lowest prices I’ve found on durable five gallon planters were at Odd Lots—some cost less than a dollar per gallon. Other department stores feature similar planters for two to three dollars a gallon. While such inexpensive planters don’t come in a huge variety of designs, they should satisfy most container gardening enthusiasts.

Dirt Cheap Containers

If your small kitchen garden’s entire purpose is to help you economize, consider an unadorned, nursery pot. A gallon-sized nursery pot might cost a dollar and change. A five-gallon nursery pot (considered by many to be the appropriate size for a single tomato plant) could cost close to two dollars. Those are great prices for planters of such sizes, but understand that plants you buy from garden stores often come in nursery pots which most people discard after planting.

I don’t mean to denigrate the nursery pot; you can grow produce in a nursery pot for years if you don’t bang it around or poke holes in it with garden tools. And, if you’re planning to grow six tomato plants on your patio, your savings over grocery store prices will be much greater if you plant in two dollar nursery pots rather than $150 designer ceramic bowls.

Super Gardening Economy

Recently, the nursery pot has faced a contender for least-expensive commercial planter: the plant bag. A plant bag costs about half what you’d pay for a nursery pot of the same capacity.

A plant bag is, in fact, a durable plastic bag. Filled with soil, the bag stays open and upright, and you can plant in it as you would any flower pot. The bags are strong enough that you can lug them around your yard, patio, deck, or whatever… they are supposed to be viable replacements for nursery pots.

Novelty Small Kitchen Garden Planters

It’s probably big enough to grow no more than herbs, but it’s awesome cute. This planter would fit almost anywhere. It’s one of a collection of animal-themed planters available from in Your Small Kitchen Garden store.

Hanging planters, stacking planters, and strawberry pots have been very popular space-savers for the space-challenged gardener. The Topsy Turvy tomato planter became the rage some years ago. You insert the root ball of a growing tomato plant through the bottom of this hanging planter and the plant grows down. The planter is actually a fabric bag or pouch. It’s a terrific space-saver, though it’s very heavy when filled with soil and watered.

Other planting pouches are also available. Typically, these are cylindrical and have slits in the sides through which you insert the roots of growing plants.

Stacking planters and strawberry pots provide ways to plant many plants in a small footprint. Suppose you have room for a single large flower pot? A traditional pot might hold one large plant or two or three small plants. A stack of pots or a strawberry pot might hold six, twelve, or even more plants. Combine such a floor-standing planter high-rise with an overhead hanging planting bag, and you’ll get the greatest advantage from a very modest space.

Please enjoy these other articles about gardening in containers:

  • Vegetables in Container Gardening – by Sydney J. Calderon. We’re all used to seeing rising prices, but the cost of food seems to have skyrocketed in the last few years. One way to protect yourself against high food prices is to grow your own vegetables. …
  • Container Gardening » Blog Archive » Tinkering Through the Tulips … – Whether you choose to grow flowers, herbs or vegetables, you can be successful at container gardening. If you follow these tips, you’ll be enjoying all the benefits of a garden in no time, no matter where you live. …
  • Container Gardening » Blog Archive » Herb Container Gardening in … – container gardening. Mary Hanna asked: Think of how marvelous your home smells when there are wonderful kitchen aromas wafting around while you are cooking with fresh herbs. It could be your Aunt Helens recipe for marinara sauce or a …

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