In my 20 plus years of adulthood, there is still one aspect of the American Dream I have never obtained: owning land. But I never let my landless existence keep me from growing my own food, herbs and pretty ornamentals — I have learned to love the container garden. There are many benefits to container gardening and long after I am a homeowner I will still keep my container garden thriving. Below are a few benefits:

Keep it simple

When learning a new skill, some people like to dive in and learn everything they can about their new obsession. Others like to dip their toe in the water. Container gardening is a fantastic place to start if you like the idea of gardening and want to grow your own food but the task of cultivating a garden seems overwhelming. You don’t need to commit to a backyard garden. Start with one container of a vegetable or herb you like. Learn how to make it thrive. If you don’t succeed on the first try, not much money has been invested, and you can try again until you get it right. Expand to more containers.

It’s portable

The average person now moves every five years. About 55% of all Flagstaff residents are renters. The idea of putting work into land you don’t plan to stay at permanently can be discouraging to gardeners. But with containers, you can take the work with you. There was a time when I moved every six months and had to fit my possessions into one car. I took my garden with me, and it’s still thriving in my home in Flagstaff.

Make your own Mediterranean climate

Growing food in Flagstaff can be challenging. The short growing season, the temperature fluctuations in our high-desert region and the wind can all make gardening a bit of a bummer for even an experienced gardener. But container gardening can help alleviate many of those problems. You can move the containers on casters around your property to get the optimal sunlight that your plants need. You can bring them inside when the temperature drops to dangerously cold levels at night. With a south-facing window, you can even grow a multitude of vegetables in containers indoors in year-round 70 degree conditions. Even with an unblocked east-facing window, you can enjoy salad greens year-round as they can tolerate partial shade.

Let your artsy side shine

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I am not much of a visual artist. I have known toddlers who have better drawing and painting skills. But I can collage or take an object I find visually appealing and say “I wonder what I can do with this?” The “container” in container gardening need not be confined to the expensive ceramic pots in the garden section. It can be a salvaged drawer, suitcase, antique can or reusable grocery bag. The possibilities are endless and can keep you in a Pinterest hole all evening. Those black plastic pots purchased at the store can be painted, or apply decoupage with leftover wrapping paper or magazine cutouts. If you’re not sure what to do with Great Aunt Ida’s china, put your container garden on those plates for no-fuss drainage. Not only will these tips create a container garden that reflects your visual style and cherished memories, but it’s also much cheaper than splurging at the store.

While container gardening has many benefits, it does have its own unique set of challenges. The right “soil,” the right-sized container and proper drainage are a few of the important things to consider to make your container garden thrive.

Find out more about container gardening at this week’s Seed to Table program, Tuesday July 11, from 5-7 p.m. at the Coconino Cooperative Extension Office, 2304 N. 3rd St.

Emily Melhorn is an AmeriCorps Service Member with Coconino Cooperative Extension and soon to be Coconino Master Gardener. She is also a Masters candidate in Sustainable Communities at NAU, recipient of the Montoya Transportation Fellowship and board member of Friends of Flagstaff's Future. She is passionate about local food systems, reducing waste, alternative transportation and making Flagstaff a great place to live.

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