Organic Container Gardening Secrets

Learn these organic container gardening secrets for lush ornamentals, indoor herbs, year-round vegetables and colorful hanging baskets, includes soil mixes, culinary herbs and care and maintenance.

| November/December 1985

Make the most of these organic container gardening secrets to healthy ornamentals, indoor herbs, year-round vegetables and colorful hanging baskets. (See the organic container gardening photos in the image gallery.)

It's quite a treat to pick a fresh sprig of rosemary or thyme in the middle of February . . . that little piece of summer fills the air with garden freshness. Just as enjoyable is the lush beauty of a hanging basket that's overflowing with ornamental plants (or vegetables!).

You can create such indoor plantings successfully and organically, but let me be honest: The task is not as easy as container gardening with chemical amendments. After all, an organic soil is not simply a mixture of wholesome ingredients but a medium filled with biological activity . . . and that activity is hard to maintain in a small, enclosed container. To do so, you'll have to apply both extra attention and some special know-how. I've been perfecting my indoor organic growing techniques for the past five years—three of those at MOTHER's Eco-Village—so I've learned a lot of the organic container gardening secrets of indoor organics the hard way: through experience. I'll be glad to share them with you here, especially as they pertain to two of my favorite indoor plantings—kitchen herbs and hanging ornamental baskets.


Organic soil contains complex living nutrient chains that are in a constant state of renewal. Warm, moist gases from decomposition foster fungi and bacteria. Organic surface litter and subsoil minerals feed earthworms, which leave their humus-rich castings for plant roots. Everything is connected. To maintain a container organically, then, you have to feed the soil in order to feed the plant.

Consequently, organic container growing demands involvement—you can't just stick an herb, vegetable, or ornamental in a pot and forget it. The easiest and best long-term plan is to annually reconnect a contained plant with natural soil by growing it outdoors during the warm months. (I do this with almost all of my perennial herbs.) Another general rule is that large containers work a lot better than small ones: They provide more room for roots and soil organisms to intermingle. Of course, some plants—such as jade, dieffenbachia, and most flowers—do better when potbound. These will need to be repotted often to keep their soil fresh (unless they're particularly slow-growing).

The actual soil you use will have to be mixed carefully. The single most important quality you're after is good structure: The constant watering a pot or basket requires would soon break down ordinary garden soil. I start of by layering stones or pieces of broken clay in the bottom of any container to provide drainage. (I use clay—not plastic pots.) Then I add a layer of worm castings or quality compost made entirely from vegetative matter (no manure). If the pot will hold heavy feeders—such as tomatoes or blue flowers—I then put in a layer of ground-up egg-shells to provide extra calcium.

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