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Container Vegetables

No place to dig a garden? You can still grow your own food!

You can raise substantial amounts of many edibles in containers on a patio, deck, porch or balcony.

Container gardening has grown rapidly recently and we have developed an increasing number of compact and dwarf varieties intended to succeed in small spaces.

Containers also make it easier for you to control the soil, light, water and fertilizer.

Here are some tips for getting started with container vegetable gardening:
Bigger is better
. The greatest challenge of container vegetable growing is watering, since soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground. A larger volume of soil won't dry out as fast, so choose the biggest pot you can. It's fine to mix compatible plants in a single large pot. Make certain that any container has holes so excess water can drain away from the soil.

Plan for watering. So-called "self-watering" containers have a reservoir beneath the soil topped with a grid through which the roots can reach down to the water. With these containers you won't have to water as often, but you still have to keep that reservoir filled. And in the hot summer, mature plants will empty that reservoir fast, so you may have to fill it daily. Spread mulch over the soil in pots just as you would in a garden, to keep moisture from evaporating. Planning a summer vacation? It's wise to stick to spring and fall crops, such as greens, peas and radishes, and let the pot garden go fallow while you're gone.

Start with herbs. They are easy, especially if you begin with transplants, and will add a fresh-grown taste to almost any meal. Just remember to give them the conditions they prefer. All herbs need full sun, but some, such as rosemary, prefer dryer soil and fewer nutrients; basil needs more fertilizer and watering.

Move it. With pots, you may be able to finesse a sun shortage. Place a wheeled pot trolley (available in garden centers) under a large pot and move it to follow the sun. For example, move it into the sun in the morning; in the evening, when you want to sit on the patio, scoot it out of the way.

Green up. Baby greens, such as lettuce and spinach, are perhaps the simplest vegetables to grow, beginning in spring when they will tolerate cool temperatures. Sow seeds right in the pot. They will take a week or more to sprout, but then will quickly reach a harvest size of three to four inches. Use scissors to snip off only the largest leaves and you can keep your harvest going for several weeks. Then pull out the plants and re-sow.


Accept the challenge. Everybody loves tomatoes, but they take some work. For pots, seek out dwarf varieties that are "determinate"--meaning they will grow to a certain size, then stop and bear all their fruit in a few weeks. Choose cherry tomatoes or those with fruit no more than two inches across, and if you can, buy transplants rather than trying to start your first tomatoes from seed. You will need a large container, at least the size of a five-gallon bucket. Self-watering containers are wise because they even out the water and fertilizer supply and deter cracking, but you still will need to water frequently in summer. Tomatoes sprawl and the fruits get heavy, so provide a cage for all but the most dwarf determinate tomato varieties. Or install sturdy stakes when you plant and be attentive to tying new shoots to the stakes.

Read the next Article: What Is An Heirloom

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Potting healthy plants in dirty containers invites disease pathogens. Scrub used pots inside and outside with a soft brush using a solution of mild dish washing detergent and warm water. Place small plastic pots on the top shelf of the dishwasher for an even more thorough cleaning. Remove the crusty residues from fertilizer salts by wetting them with vinegar and scrubbing with a stiff brush.

    To clean stained and moldy terra-cotta pots simply soak them in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water for a few minutes. Air-dry and rinse in clean water.
    To clean pots containing plants, cover the plant with a paper or plastic bag. Spray the bleach solution on outer pot surfaces rather than dipping it. Allow to dry and then rinse. Scrub stubborn spots gently with a vegetable brush while rinsing.