Posted in: Fertilizers, garden, projects, vegetables On: Monday, May 21st, 2012
Keeping a kitchen garden on your deck, patio, or windowsill will inspire you to create meals with fresh veggies and herbs. Planting in pots requires a minimum of time and effort, there is less weeding, bending and digging. Gardeners with physical disabilities find that growing vegetables in containers makes them far easier to reach and tend. Those with difficult soil conditions (sand, stone, clay, or pollutants) can’t really grow vegetables any other way. And it’s also a good way to avoid sharing your harvest with deer and groundhogs by keeping your tasty goodies safe on your deck. If you are new to growing vegetables in containers, or have had limited success, here are a few tips to help you succeed.
Selecting a Container
As a general rule, select as large a container as possible. Small containers will dry out quickly and put stress on the plant. You’ll want to think about weight (once the pot is filled with wet soil and plant material it’s going to be very heavy). And you may want to think about appearance (Do you want plastic, terracotta, or glazed?). Terracotta pots will dry out more quickly, due to their porous nature. Half-whiskey barrels in plastic or wood make excellent containers for veggies. Remember that the deeper the pot, the larger the reservoir of moist soil and the less often you’ll need to water. The exception is a Self-Watering Planter, like the Earthbox. The Earthbox contains a reservoir of water that encourages strong root growth without added depth.
Locating Your Container
Most vegetables require six hours of direct sunlight per day. Tomatoes, peppers, beans and other sun-lovers will appreciate as much sun as they can get. Salad greens and herbs can usually get by with less. If your yard is short on sun, consider putting your container gardens on casters. That way they can be moved later in the season as the angle of the sun changes. Wind is another factor to consider. Arrange your pots so larger plants shield smaller plants. Clustering potted plants together also helps to raise humidity levels, keeping plants more productive.
Do not fill your containers with garden soil or topsoil! You should fill the containers with a “soilless” blend that will retain lots of moisture and resist compaction. When growing veggies and herbs, you might want to consider an organic potting mix like Organic Mechanics Blend.
Vegetables require a consistent supply of water to perform their best. Check moisture levels everyday. Adding water-absorbing crystals such as Soil Moist Natural can help to extend the time between watering. Save time and effort by hooking up a drip irrigation system; like the Raindrip Container Kit. Inconsistent moisture can lead to problems, such as blossom drop, poor root development, leaf curling, and insect problems (they are more likely to attack a plant that is stressed). Proper drainage is also essential; fewer conditions will harm plants faster than perpetually soggy soil. For pots without holes, drill three or four in the bottom. If you place saucers under your containers be sure to empty water from them, a plant sitting in water-logged soil will be unable to breathe and be susceptible to rot.
Fertilizer is particularly important when you’re growing vegetables in containers. It is recommended to mix a granular organic fertilizer, like Espoma Garden-tone, into the soil when planting. Follow up with a weekly feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed Liquid Fertilizer. There are several reasons why fertilizer is so important. One is that containerized plants get watered a lot and every time you water, you wash some nutrients out of the soil. Another factor is you are packing lots of hungry plants into a very small space.
This is the fun part! Look for compact or bush varieties to make the most of your small space. When combining several different types of plants in one pot, it’s best to match plants that have a similar need for water and fertilizer. For example, rosemary, which likes hot and relatively dry conditions, would not be a good match with water-hungry cucumbers. Try tucking in herbs along with your vegetable plants, basil loves to grow with tomatoes and adding garlic or chives can help to repel pests. To accommodate more vegetables in less space, grow up, pole beans and cucumbers can be trained up trellises.
Best Vegetables for Containers
By Jennifer Hendricks Horticulturist and Urban Gardener