The practice of growing plants in pots and containers is known as container gardening. Container gardening is mostly practiced in urban homes, multistorey buildings of towns and cities and in places where availability of land is a major constraint. Bell peppers are popular container-grown plants among urban populations. They can be grown in containers successfully.
Some of the major considerations while preparing for raising a container garden are: choosing right containers, choosing a good growing media, and preparing a gardening schedule or a garden calendar.
Selection of Suitable Containers/Pots: Earthenware pots are most commonly used containers for growing bell peppers. Wooden barrels and planters can also be used and these containers should be painted from inside as well as outside with waterproof oil-paints before using them. Plastic jars, pots, dishes and bowls, glazed clay and china (porcelain) pots, shallow bowls and troughs, pottery containers, boxes and crates, cement pots, cans and buckets, tin boxes, drums, brass, copper containers, or any such suitable containers may be used according to the circumstances and growing requirements of the gardeners. Similarly, when it comes to the shape of the containers, any shape of the container can be used whether it is circular, round, oval, elliptical, cone, pyramid, rectangular, square, or heart-shaped.
Containers should have at least one hole of an adequate size at the bottom as in earthen pots, to drain out excess water. Containers should easily be placed on the terrace, window sills, window boxes, balcony and verandah where sunlight is available for the plants. Containers should be able to hold sufficient volume of growing media and should be lightweight (for portability, if needed), and easy to handle. Containers should be durable and free of toxic substances and also should prevent root circling.
Selection of Suitable Growing Media or Soil and Fertilizers: Growing media may be prepared from a mixture of good soil, river sand, well-decomposed organic manure (compost or farmyard manure), nitrogenous fertilizers (urea or ammonium sulphate) and recommended organic insecticides and fungicides. Growing media should be able to hold seedlings firmly. Media should be free of insect-pests, and should have good water-holding capacity. Growing media should also have excellent aeration and drainage. If it is inconvenient to prepare growing media at home, one can purchase ready-made growing media from a plant nursery.
How to prepare a suitable growing media? Mix good soil, river-sand and well-rotten organic manure in equal quantities with the help of a shovel. Make sure that the mixture is free from various soil-borne insects, termites, red ants and cut worms. Add a small quantity of recommended fungicide (organic pyrethrum-based fungicides may be used)to the mixture before filling it in the containers; this helps to prevent seedling rotting caused due to fungal infections. Usage of synthetic chemicals is not advised for container grown or indoor grown plants due to chemical-residue related hazards and health risks.
After raising a crop for one season, the container mixture should be removed and cleaned of roots and exposed to the sun for a few days. This growing media could then be reused after mixing one-third the quantity of organic manure and a small quantity of recommended fungicide. Alternatively, growers can prepare their own compost or vermicompost by using kitchen wastes and use it as growing media for their container-grown plants.
Preparation of a Garden Calendar: If you are planning for container-growing of bell peppers, then you should prepare a gardening schedule beforehand.
A garden calendar should clearly address the following issues:
- Sowing Time: When to sow the seeds?
- Fertilizer Schedule: When to fertilize plants? How many times?
- Irrigation/Watering Schedule: How much irrigation is required? And when?
- Weeding and Aftercare: What are the weed control measures to be adopted?
- Harvesting Time: When can the leaves be harvested?
In addition to this, a container gardener should arrange the following garden tools:
- Shovel: A shovel is needed for mixing the soil-manure mixture.
- Hand Cultivator: It is needed for working around plants and breaking up soil clods for light replanting.
- Trowel: It is used for transplanting purposes.
- Watering Can: A watering can is required for watering plants.
- Hand Duster: It is used to apply chemicals in powder form.
- Air Sprayer: It is the most popular equipment for applying liquid fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides through foliar spraying because it gives good coverage.
- Strings and Measuring Tapes: These are required for measuring purposes.
- Wheelbarrow or Garden Cart: It is used to transport soil and manures, garden tools, and harvested produce
- Seeders: It is used for sowing seeds.
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How to Grow Bell Peppers in Containers? After arranging containers, growing media and necessary garden tools, a grower can start raising seedlings.
Seed propagation is practiced in bell peppers. Seedlings may be raised in well-prepared nursery beds. Nursery beds should be prepared in a well-shaded area. Soil should be well-drained and pathogen-free. Regular light watering is necessary to keep the nursery bed moist always. Moist soil facilitates quick seed germination. Well-developed seedlings of 10-15 cm height are later transplanted in the containers.
Remember that plants in pots and containers need a lot of care and attention. So it is essential to water and manure frequently the growing plants depending on the climate, size of the plant and type of container. Plants need extra water in dry summer season because of evaporation/transpiration losses, so watering should be done twice a day (morning and evening). Too much watering can be as harmful in winter as too little in summer. In the rainy season, proper water drainage is essential if plants are placed in the open areas. If there is heavy rain, containers should be tilted slightly to drain out the excess water from the top.
Topdressing with nitrogenous fertilizers improves plant growth and fruit yield. This can be done by foliar application of liquid nitrogen, urea or ammonium sulphate in small quantities. Alternatively, urea granules@ 5–10g/container may be applied in moist soil once a week or 10 days, starting from 2 weeks after transplanting the seedlings. High dose of fertilizer is very harmful since it can kill the plants.
If urea or ammonium sulphate is applied in dry soil, the plants must be watered immediately. Young plants may require staking. Hand-hoeing and weeding with the help of a small shovel should be done periodically to remove weeds, if there are any. Weeds may also be uprooted gently by hand.
For container-grown plants, water requirement may be determined by weighing pots, feeling growing medium and by using indicator plants that readily show water stress. Watering should be done in early morning to minimize evaporation loss. Applying water in two or more applications conserves water.
Major insects found in container-grown plants are, aphids and jassids, and leaf borers. Aphids and jassids are small-sucking insects, injuring the plants especially in early stage of their growth. Leaf borers damage young leaves and make them unfit for consumption. Use of organic insecticides such pyrethrum-based sprays or tobacco emulsions, or neem oil based solutions effectively control these insects. After spraying with insecticides, fruits should not be harvested for 7 days for consumption as chemical residues may be present in them. Use of mechanical traps (colour traps, light traps etc) and manual picking of insects may also be tried for insect control.
Fungal diseases (damping off and wilt) and viral diseases affect the plants kept in the open areas, particularly in the rainy season. Fungal diseases can be controlled by drenching the soil with an appropriate fungicide. Virus-affected plants should be removed and destroyed. It takes only a few months for the transplanted seedlings to start producing fruits. Fruits may be harvested by using a garden knife. Root pruning is essential to remove root circling when root systems become too long for their containers. Root circling can be prevented by air root pruning or by using bottomless containers and copper compounds. Pruning may be necessary to induce new root growth. Repotting may also be tried to accommodate overgrown plants.