Creative recycling can result in unusual garden containers

Those folks who enjoy creative recycling have been known, on occasion, to look for their summer salads in old work boots. This is not as odd as it sounds. By filling these discards with rich garden or potting soils, the recyclers have turned the boots into planters for curly-leafed parsley, scallions, or maybe even Tiny Tim tomatoes. Presumably, if the soles were worn through there was no need even to cut drainage holes.

One enterprising gardener, with only the tiniest of courtyards available to him, suspended used auto tires on the sunny section of the surrounding wall, filled the lower portions with soil, and was able to grow an array of edible and colorful plants.

This is not to suggest that we all scrounge around for discarded footwear and junkyard tires. The point is, you can grow plants in almost anything that will hold soil as long as it has adequate drainage holes and is open to the sun.

It's called container gardening, but judging by the way some people tackle it , mini-farming is the more approriate term.

Obviously, a spacious yard is the best place for a garden, but those who, by necessity, are into container gardening do enjoy some specific advantages. They can grow things where plants don't ordinarily flourish - on balconies, patios, roofs, outside stairs, atop brick walls, and suspended on stockade or other fences.

These gardeners also enjoy an extended season because all but the larger containers can be readily moved into a sheltered area whenever frost or other adverse weather threatens.

This same flexibility means that your patio garden can be rearranged the same way you would a room; that is, by moving the furniture, or in this case, the containerized plants. As an example, you would likely start with a spring-flowering bulb garden - daffodils, tulips, and the like - early in the year. As soon as these had passed their peak, you would set them aside and bring in the summer-flowering annuals.

These, in turn, would be replaced by the chrysanthemums when fall rolled around. You would do similar things with the vegetable garden as well. When the eggplant on the porch finally yields its shiny purple fruit to that evening's parmigana, you would temporarily put it into the back row of the ''garden'' and bring the yellow-fruited sweet banana pepper to the fore. The conventional gardener simply doesn't have these options.

Are there any disadvantages to container growing? Of course there are, the principal one being the need to tend to them almost on a daily basis during much of the growing season. That's because roots, in the confined pots, boxes, plastic bags, or whatever, lack the freedom to range far and wide for their moisture and nutriments.

Plant leaves transpire on hot days so that they can get rid of excess heat that would otherwise build up in the leaves. So, all but really large planters may need water every day during hot weather and at least twice a day when broiling summer temperatures arrive.

Remember, however, that too much water can kill a plant by choking off the air. Wait until the surface of the soil mix is dry to a depth of one-quarter inch before watering.

Container plants also need to be fed regularly. Because the roots can't spread far in their search for food, you must bring it to them. In effect, they need room service. Feed them manure or compost teas every other week, or a solution of store-bought fertilizer applied according to the directions. Foliar feeding is another option for the container garden.

A variety of containers, including hanging baskets, are available for the container grower at garden centers. But much less expensive options are available around the home - cans, old pails, plastic-lined bushel baskets and boxes, gallon milk cartons, and even old work boots.

Container gardeners often buy their ''soil'' from garden centers in the form of soilless potting mixes. These are lightweight and hold moisture well while still allowing good drainage and air penetration. They are also largely sterile and free of weed seeds.

The amount of available sunlight, of course, will determine what plants you will grow. As a general rule, those that produce a flower require more sun than those that do not.

Among the vegetables that tolerate partial shade, but with four to six hours of direct sunlight a day, are beets, cabbage, carrots, chives, kale, leek, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, parsley, and radishes.

Full-sun lovers (eight hours or more) include tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and onions.

A new and comprehensive book on container gardening has just been published. ''Gardening in Containers'' (Ortho Books, $5.95) deals comprehensively with the subject and includes such topics as suitable plant varieties, appropriate containers, and potting mixes, plus a list of techniques for carefree feeding and watering. Ortho books are available from most garden centers.

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