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The Impermanent Garden: Tips for Landscaping a Rental Home (Part 2)

Last week I talked about portable gardens that focused on the flowers and whimsical creations.  Fairy gardens and plants that attract local wildlife are great, but they are not for everyone.  I know some of us would be more interested in a functional garden, with items that you can use in the kitchen, and that is what I will be talking about next.  This week we will focus on the types of containers that you can use for your portable edible garden, as well as some tips for how to choose and use them.

Portable Edible Gardens

With edible gardens, there are a few things to consider -- aside from what tasty goodies grow well in containers.   Primarily, we want to consider what kind of space we have available and what sort of light and shade is provided in that place.  Also, it is best if we look at our moving patterns.  Whether you have a lifestyle that has you moving more or less frequently can have an impact of what types of containers you may want to garden in.

Pallet Gardens

Pallet gardens are fantastic, because they give you the ability to grow most anything that you could grow in a permanent planter bed, with the primary difference that with a little work you can take it with you to your next home.   While pallet gardens can work for the frequent mover, I would suggest using half pallets.  While these innovative planters are portable, the combination of wood and dirt can make them a little heavier than some other options (which I will show later on!).

Things to Consider when Choosing a Pallet for your Garden

  1. Always look for wood pallets that have been heat treated.  This guarantees a certain standard of construction, and the treatment ensures that nasty pests will not hitch a ride home to your new garden.  Most pallets that have been heat treated have "HT" imprinted on the wood.
  2. When looking for used pallets to upcycle, it is best to ask what the pallets were used for previously.  If they were used to transport chemicals, or anything of that nature, more than likely you don't want to grow tasty veggies in it.
  3. If a used pallet does not appeal to you, then there are sources for new pallets available.  If you are unable to find any sources locally, there are several companies that sell new, heat treated pallets online.  For example, carries pallets for less than $7 each. 

Building your Pallet Garden

Along with the pallets, you will need potting soil, landscaping fabric (like this one carried at Lowe's) , and a staple gun.  The purpose of the fabric is to completely cover the bottom and sides of the pallet, which keeps the soil in place - ultimately that is what makes the pallet garden portable as well!  For step-by-step instructions, I think that the Life on the Balcony blog is one of the better sources.

Wine Barrel Gardens

Sometimes I prefer to use containers that are a little more toward the traditional, while still avoiding the typical pots that are ubiquitous.  Wine barrels really fit the bill, because they are roomy while still being portable, plus the aged wood and metal banding lend a charming look the patio.  Using barrels instead of similar sized terracotta pots is also fiscally smart!  While a large sized terracotta pot can run up to $500, a similar sized wine barrel can often be found for under $100.

Tips for Using Wine Barrels in your Portable Garden

  • When choosing your wine barrel, look for any signs of rotten wood.  Adding water to an already soft barrel could cause issues down the road
  • Drainage is key!  Once you have your wine barrel, drill six to eight drainage holes (depending on the size of your barrel) that are about 3/4 of an inch in width.  Once you have the holes drained, you will want to cover an secure the drainage holes with metal screening and heavy duty staples.  (You can see an example of screening here)  
  • For simplicity, many home gardeners will add wheels to the bottom of the whine barrels for mobility. has a great post on how to choose the right size casters, braces, and how to put it all together
  • Once you have filled your new container with potting soil (leaving 2-3 inches free on the top), give the soil a good water until you see water flowing from the bottom.  This will ensure that you have a good moist base in which to start your planting
  • If you do not choose to add wheels to your new container, placing your wine barrel on three evenly spaced bricks will provide space for the water to drain while still remaining stable

Grow Bag Gardens

I love grow bags, especially for portable gardens.  They are very inexpensive (you can find gallon sized grow bags on Amazon for under $6) and reusable.  They usually have handles for easy moving, and the fabric is both sturdy and exceptionally breathable.  The easy access to oxygen helps your plants root systems naturally prune themselves -- when roots have access to certain levels of air, they will dehydrate and signal the plant to grow new roots off the old.  This leads to a strong root system, as well as one that does not need to be re-potted regularly.  Grow bag fabric does not hold water in either, which means that you won't have plants suffering from standing water.  The simple design of grow bags also allows you more options when choosing to present your portable garden; they fit in baskets and other similar containers, in addition to working well on their own.  There are even grow bags designed to hang on their own, which is great for balconies.  

Grow bags come in many sizes, from petite and cute to big enough to hold a dwarf fruit tree

Tips for Using Grow Bags in you Edible Garden

  • Make sure to the soil in the grow bag is nice and loose before you plant.  This can be done by hand, or by kneading the outside of the bag (like a pillow) if it is a smaller bag
  • Wherever you place your grow bags, make sure they have space to drain.  Large weave baskets can do this, or if you are placing them on their own, placing 2x2 lumber underneath the bags like rails will work.  You can really use your imagination on this one
  • When choosing your grow bags, size matters depending on what you want to grow.  For example, if you are going to try your hand at root vegetables, look for larger bags.  This way, you can have a larger product at the end.  Potatoes grown in a small space equal tiny potatoes!


Next week we get to look at some types of fruits and vegetables that work well in container gardens.

I would love to hear your experiences.  Are there are containers for portable gardening that really work for you?  Or have you tried any of the options that you see here?  What was your experience?

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