Are you fond of the idea of having an abundant vegetable garden but are tight on space? Or maybe you haven’t ventured into food gardening but possess the desire to test the waters a bit with a few of your favorites. It could even be that you’re a novice to this gardening thing and are curious to see if you were born with the necessary green thumb to pull it off. Container gardening is just the ticket. There are many varieties of vegetables available, and with the process being quite simple, you can yield delicious results. All you need is a porch, deck, balcony or patio that gets a decent amount of sun, along with at least one container and some potting soil. From there, you are on your way to harvesting an abundance of fresh, home grown produce. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Pick Your Pot
You can use just about any receptacle to plant your vegetables, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Size matters, so the bigger the pot, the better. That’s because the greatest challenge of container vegetable growing is watering. Soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground, so a larger volume of soil won’t dry out as fast and a large pot will insulate roots better.
- Lightweight containers made of fiberglass, plastic or foam composites will make moving pots easier.
- You’ll want to make sure that any container you use has holes for drainage on the bottom, as excess water can promote root rot (and you definitely want to have well-drained soil). It can be helpful to add a layer of small rocks on the bottom of the pot before adding soil to assist in drainage.
- Be sure to start out with a clean vessel. Clean pots with a 1-to-10 bleach-to-water solution to help eliminate fungal and pest problems. Rinse thoroughly.
- Fill deep, large pots with one-third mulch, packing peanuts or even empty smaller pots turned upside down to consume space. This not only will require using less potting soil to fill the pot but also helps with drainage.
Use a Soil with Substance
- Use a quality soilless potting mix. It is light and fluffy and provides roots with more oxygen and nutrients. Heavy potting soils tend to hold excess water, which is not good for the roots of the plant.
- Replace soil every year when you replant the pot. Old soil loses nutrients and may contain old rotting roots so it is no longer beneficial to plants.
- Tamp down the soil as you’re filling the pot to prevent settling. Build to the point of creating a mound above the rim, which provides more planting surface and makes plantings appear fuller. Leave a little lip around the inside of the rim so that water and soil won’t run over the edge when watering.
- Top the soil surface with a light sprinkling of a slow-release granular fertilizer. Containers require frequent watering which causes the soil’s nutrients to be depleted.
- When planting, avoid burying the crowns of plants in the soil as it will cause them to rot.
What to Plant
Go to any garden center or greenhouse and you’ll be faced with a mind-boggling array of vegetables to plant. You can choose to grow from seeds or starter plants. Be sure to select plants that will tolerate the exposure where the container will be located. The following are truly easy varieties to start with:
- Greens such as lettuce and spinach are possibly the simplest vegetables to grow. Even when planted in cooler spring weather, they will do just fine. Greens tend to grow fast, so you will be able to harvest it multiple times throughout the season. It’s best to plant in a wide pot for adequate room to grow. It is also very easy to harvest – just snip the tops off the plants or pick leaves when salad is on the menu.
- Garlic is not only a great addition to many recipes, it’s also easy to grow in a container. Keep bulbs about five inches apart from each other so they have room to grow.
- A veggie that can provide more of a challenge (but is totally worth it) is cucumber. It requires a medium to large pot and needs to be fed and watered regularly. Cucumbers thrive in sunlight and warm temperatures. They also need support, such as a trellis, for climbing. It’s this vertical growth pattern that makes them ideal for containers. Give them what they need and they’ll grow like crazy! You’ll have enough cucumbers share with all of your neighbors.
- Peas are great for containers because they grow quickly, don’t require much attention and don’t need a lot of space. Harvest your container peas often; it encourages the plant to produce more of them.
- Beans are another great choice for container gardening. Use a trellis so they can grow upwards, put them in plenty of sun and provide well-drained soil. There are many varieties to choose from and all grow easily from seed. An added bonus – they’re fun to harvest, a good one to get the kids involved with.
- Radishes are great for containers because they grow fast and can grow in nearly any kind of pot—wide or deep. The bigger the variety, the bigger the container you’ll need. They grow in sun to partial shade and take just 20 days to reach maturity.
- From mild-mannered to hot and spicy, there is a pepper for you. Fortunately, they grow very well in containers and just need a warm and sunny place to really take off.
- Lastly, the most popular vegetable to grow in a container are tomatoes. They require lots of sun and support for their stalks in the form of stakes or a cage. Starter plants are the easiest way to go. Plant a couple of different varieties and you’ll have an abundance of tomatoes all season!
Take Good Care of Your Investment
You’ve spent time and money on your container garden. Make sure it thrives by sticking to these tips:
- Mulching prevents water loss. Use mulch if your plants are water sensitive or are in the hot sun all day. Spread mulch over the soil in pots just as you would in a garden, to keep moisture from evaporating quickly
- Never allow the soil to dry out completely. Don’t under or overwater pots. Instead, use the two-knuckle test: Stick a finger in the soil to the depth of your second knuckle; if the soil feels dry, water. Early morning and right around sunset are the best times to water (it decreases water loss through evaporation).
- If aphids, mites, or whiteflies attack, spray them with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Handpick and destroy tomato hornworms.
- Pick crops when they are ripe: beans before the seeds swell inside the pods; cucumbers when fruits are fully expanded but not seedy; peppers when fully grown and showing appropriate color (green, red or another shade); tomatoes when fully colored (red, orange or yellow).
Why not cultivate your inner farmer and give container gardening a try? Growing vegetables in containers makes it easy for you to control the soil, light, water and fertilizer. After providing some basic supplies and TLC, vegetables will not only add some visual oomph and interest to your landscape, they can provide you with a healthy harvest all summer long!