Containers vs. open garden test - ended abruptly

don555(3a)July 13, 2012

The season is very short and cool here so I wanted to test whether containers would give me an edge over open garden planting.

My comparisons were based on Charleston Hot and Hungarian Wax, which I started in mid-March under lights and planted out in May. For the Charleston, one plant was planted direct in a sunny garden, and two plants were put in a single pot on a sunny second-story deck. For the Hungarian, all plants were put in the garden but two were planted direct in the ground and two were in individual pots next to the garden-planted ones.

Results are confusing, because they are mixed. Up until yesterday, the Charleston were doing much better in containers (vigorous, flowering well, numerous peppers setting) than direct in the garden (much shorter, no blooms, not even close). The most recent comparison pics I have for this were taken July 3, with the direct-planted Charleston immediately to the right of the pot:

On the other hand, the Hungarian were actually doing better in the ground than in the pots. Not hugely different, but last time I measured the potted Hungarians were 6.5" tall, the ones direct planted were 9" and 10" tall and all were setting peppers. Here's a July 3 pic of them:

We are less than half-way through the growing season here but unfortunately we had bad hail last night so this is probably as far as I can take this experiment this year. Here's how the Hungarians look today:

And here's the garden-planted Charleston (on the plus side, I was able to get out before the hail became really bad and protect the container-planted Charleston):

So I'm pleased that the Charleston were doing much better in a container, but perplexed why the Hungarian seemed to have the opposite response. Maybe next year I'll sort this out...

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Don"t give up on those plants just yet! I went through 2 rounds of hail storms last week. We had hail 2 times in 4 days. My plants were battered. It's only been a week, and aside from some holes in the leaves, they have bounced back to almost pre-hail condition. They were blown completely over in the storm. I had several plants laying on their sides. You will be amazed what these plants can endure! Just give them lots of TLC, and you will be in great shape before you know it!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:00AM
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Two years ago we had 22 minutes of hail between the size of tennis ball to baseball up at the lake in mid July (zone 3). The gardens (veggie and flowers) where battered. Was so hard to stand there and watch. The pepper plants took a good beating, I cleaned the broken branches off, but left all that was in tact. They were troopers, they may have looked ragged, but grew new branches, leafed out, the flowes came, as well as the peppers. Those guys will pull through, so give them some TLC and they will respond.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 7:47AM
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Oh, man, that sucks! Hopefully they bounce back quick enough to give you a decent harvest.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Blowing some positive chili vibes your way:)

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 1:33PM
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That sucks!

I wish we got rain here in the summer to alleviate my water bill but after seeing your pics, I'm kinda glad we don't get any.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 9:23PM
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They probably still have a chance if you cut them back. I had a pumpkin hab earlier this year that got beat to hell, and 90% of the existing growth and any new leaves and buds quickly died and fell off. I knew it didn't have a chance, so I just decided to cut off anything that was damaged or showing signs of dying, leaves, blooms, branches, all of it except 2 branches forking off the main stem, and a little growth at the top that was struggling but not dead yet. Here's a pic of what I was left with...

It obviously had zero chance of producing buds and flowers, so I stopped giving it anything with PK over 1, like bloom ferts, and just used 5-1-1 fish fertilizer every other week so all it's energy went into vegetation growth. Then I let it get 8-9 hours of direct sunlight a day, and these were taken tonight, about 5 weeks after cutting it back...

(They look droopy because it's been raining all day)

It's producing pods again, but I'm pinching them all off because I doubt it can support them yet. Depending on how quickly it keeps growing, I'll probably start using bloom ferts again in 3-4 weeks. Yours will probably rebound too but I'd clip off most of the leaves, and definitely all the peppers because they require a lot more nutrients than the leaves and stems, so leaving them on will either stunt the plants growth, or die from lack of nutrients.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 1:01AM
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Thanks for the comments and tips. I'm not giving up on the beaten plants and will help them recover as best I can. The reality though is that we've got two summer months left here then frost in September so peppers are a marginal crop even without a hail setback. We'll see what happens, at least I still have 3 large pots of peppers I was able to protect from the hail.

What I meant to focus on though was why some varieties (Charleston Hot) seemed to do much better in a container than in the garden, while another variety (Hungarian Wax) seemed to do better in the garden than in pots. I suspect it has to do with the Hungarian setting large fruit very early which sapped plant growth, though it still doesn't make sense that the container plants were more vigorous even though they set just as many peppers. Along that train of thought, the Charleston didn't set fruit until recently so were able to take advantage of the container enviroment without being burdened by early fruit production. Not sure if that makes sense or not. It's too bad I couldn't have run the pots vs. direct planting comparison further than just to mid-season. At any rate, containers sure do have the advantage of mobility so I can get them out of the way of bad weather.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 2:14AM
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Were you trying for a true ground vs. pot comparison, or were you looking at multiple variables? Because for it to be a true comparison of pot vs. garden, the container would have to be the only difference, or you wouldn't be able to credit just the pot/garden difference to any observable change. Just look at plant location, the potted Charleston was up your deck and is a lot bigger than the Charleston in your garden, but the potted Hungarians were kept in the garden near the planted Hungarian, and that difference is basically negligible compared to the Charleston results. Look at the growth difference between the potted Charleston on the deck and potted Hungarian in the garden (assuming you used the same potting mix)and compare it to the growth difference between the Hungarian planted in the garden and the potted Hungarian kept in the garden. That looks like location has more of an affect than pot vs. container. You also have 2 plants in one pot on the deck and 2 plants in individual pots in the garden, so you can say it's a factor of multiple plants in one container and location. It just doesn't seem to me like you can draw any clear conclusions from this experiment, unless you reduce the variables. Would be a cool study though.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 4:14AM
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Yah, Capt., you are right, I was in over my head. I really needed a large controlled study to answer the questions I wanted answered. Alas, I have just 8 pots, and 3 of those are planted with tomatoes... a backyard-guy can only do so much.

I guess what I was really looking to answer was, if I'm growing peppers in zone 3, where the heck should I grow them to maximize my chance of success? Looks like that's still up for debate.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 5:41AM
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It seems like you could easily make this a controlled study by filling your pots with soil from the garden and leaving them in the garden for the duration of the grow, and giving each plant the same amount of water and ferts (if you fertilize them) at the same time of day. I wasn't trying to bash what you were doing, so I apologize if it came off that way, you gotta admire your analytical approach to growing, your method just had a few holes in it, which are easy to fix. I think you had it right with the Hungarian plants. I'm not a big time grower, but I would think that pot vs. garden alone wouldn't result in a drastic difference, and your Hungarians show that. It was just the results from moving the Charleston to your deck, and how big it grew, that presented a problem. You can say the potted Charleston on your deck grew more than the planted one, but since the potted and planted Hungarians were so similar and stayed in the garden, the results can't be attributed to one single condition. To me, the best way to determine your maximum ideal growing conditions is to do what you did, but keep all the other conditions the same. Keep all the soil, plant locations, feedings, any changes etc. the same for both the planted peppers and potted peppers. And if that experiment yields no drastically different results, if you want to keep experimenting, you'll have to do it all over again but change one more thing, so it becomes a process of elimination.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 6:32AM
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Sorry about your plants, mother nature can be so frustrating. But I agree with others, they will come back, I accidentally had a Peter covered earlier and forgot to water, lost all its leaves, literally, but it's back looking prettier than ever... it's taken a couple of months.

Thing is, I'd like to know how you have such a beautiful weed free garden! My raised beds don't even look that good!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 8:55AM
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I'm not sure I agree with your consensus completely captainpoopiepants. One advantage container gardening has over putting plants in the ground is the ability to provide better soil and ferts. You suggested that he use the same soil in the pots as he did in the garden. This is true if your doing a scientific test that needs reproducible results. If you were doing a study for a university to prove a thesis, this would be practical. I think his main goal is to maximize growth and pod production in the short time frame he has in zone 3. To that end, using average soil form the earth will not give you an advantage. The positive about container gardening is the fact that you can offer better soil,ferts,and growing conditions in a cost effective manner. This would not be possible in a raised or regular garden for most people. Only someone with unlimited funds would be able to reproduce the same conditions for the plants in the garden. I think he was on the right track for what he was trying to achieve, I just think your right about the plants on the deck. Ideally, you would want to have both varieties in all locations. I'm not trying to bash either of you, on the contrary, I think discussions like this are beneficial for all who read it! Good luck to both of you with the remainder of your seasons. :)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Well growing in containers is definitely advantageous because you can use high quality soil, control the nutrients easily, and they're mobile, so it's obvious which one would result in maximum output, so why test it?. The way I interpreted his objective was that he is doing a container vs. garden test to determine the effect of soil temperature on growth rate. Due to his short season, soil temperatures will most likely affect the garden plants, but pots are more exposed to sun, warming the soil, allowing for more growth. Using garden soil in the pots would tell him whether or not the difference is directly due to soil temperature because the medium is the same, but by using nutrient enriched potting soil, you don't know if the results are from the extra nutrients or warmer soil temp.

You don't rule out a possible cause of the low yield, you just introduce more variables. To confirm the nutrient enriched container results, he would now have to grow in a nutrient enriched garden. If that results in smaller peppers than the container ones, the cause would seem to be soil temperature. He said he was testing garden growth vs. container growth, and the results from what I suggested would be a true ground vs. container comparison, while using potting mix would be a ground vs container and growth medium comparison. It just seems to me that introducing potting soil into the experiment results in more variables to account for, when the original question was simply garden or container.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 8:38PM
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I agree with you if that is, in fact what his experiment was about. I was under the impression that he was doing a test to see what method would offer the best results in his climate. If that is in fact what he was doing, then my advice would be to use containers. If he is doing a literal experiment where yield and growth is not the target, then I'm wrong. I guess the only way to know for sure would be for don555 to elaborate on his intentions. I believe either way, he is in the right place to facilitate that goal. I've had nothing but positive results here. As you can see from reading the threads here, there are a lot of knowledgeable people available to assist you.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 11:12AM
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I agree with those above in that you don't need the controlled conditions for his test. His test is not to compare ground and containers in general, but whether it is better in HIS growing conditions, so I would not change anything that you would do normally.

I personally grow in both containers and in ground. In MY experience and conditions, containers are usually earlier. I believe the reasoning is twofold. One is that pots warm up faster in spring then the ground, and the other is that the plants tend to start flowering when they hit the limits of the pots. I usually yield more in containers due to the earlier harvests and in ground I usually don't get a harvest (at least of superhots) until just before frost. I tend to get more vegetative growth in the ground before fruits set.

That is, until this year. We had a very warm spring and continue to have warm weather. Although I did have earlier fruits in containers, I have peppers almost ready as we speak and plants are much larger in ground then in the past. I suspect it's because the early warm weather has warmed up the soil more, and causing the in ground peppers to fruit earlier. For the first time, I may yield more in ground then in containers. I suspect this will be the exception though as this year has been very unusual.

For zone 3 I would guess containers would still be the way to go, and even better if you had a small greenhouse or something to get them out a bit earlier.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 10:23AM
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An interesting discussion above and I'm now kind of confused about the whole thing and not really sure exactly what question(s) I was hoping to answer. But what I have decided is that if I grow Charleston Hot again, I am better to do it on a container on my deck than in the garden. Both sites have about the same amount of sun, garden has crappier soil, more insects and can get terrible hail. Deck is windier but if bad weather is coming in I have a much better chance of protecting things. Different years could bring different issues and conditions, but for this year at least here's how the Charleston looks in the garden today, beaten and with no peppers, not even any flowers:

And here's how it looks on the deck:

So my test has some big holes in it, but the results are night-and-day, so I'll be going with pots on the deck next year

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 6:12PM
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I also have peppers in containers as well as peppers in my garden. The plants in the containers are greatly out performing the ones in the garden. I think unless you live in a suitable climate, the best options is usually going to be containers. I know some of the guys in Florida, California, Arizona, etc. will do better in the ground. The farther north you go, the less success you will have.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 10:10PM
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Peppernovice, interesting explanation of how climate impacts planting in containers vs. directly in the garden. That does make a lot of sense.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 1:24AM
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I think the biggest factor is how long it takes the soil to warm up to a acceptable temperature for growing peppers. It's going to happen a lot quicker in a warmer climate. If the average soil temp in the winter is 65 degrees, the soil is going to get to 85 degrees a lot faster than if the average temp is 40 degrees. Therefore if you use containers, the small surface area of the container will reach an optimal level far faster than your soil in your garden. This allows you to grow plants and get pods possibly a month faster than if you plant exclusively in your garden.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 2:35AM
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I grow mostly bhuts and habs.

I too prefer to grow in 5 and 7 gal. containers for ease of access as I can put them up on shelves etc. This gives better access to the lower and underside of leaves for insect control (lots of aphids in my area lately).
And if we get a rogue winter frost I can move them into safety.
HOWEVER... after about two years mine become rootbound and prodictivity drops to less than 10%.

Anyone else with similar experience?

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 9:33AM
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