No place to dig a garden? You can still grow your own food with container vegetable gardening. Even those of us with no garden space can raise substantial volumes of container grown vegetables, fruit and herbs in all sorts of containers or pots on a patio, deck, porch or balcony. Container gardening has grown rapidly in recent years and gardeners have developed an increasing number of compact and dwarf varieties designed to succeed in small spaces.
Container Vegetable Gardening Quick Start Guide
Container Gardening Benefits
- Easy to start for beginner gardeners.
- Much easier to move than traditional, in-ground garden setups.
- Easier to control the soil, light, water and fertilizer levels.
- Does not require much space.
- Many different types of plants can thrive in a single container together.
Container Vegetable Gardening Tips
Bigger is better. The greatest challenge of container vegetable gardening is watering since soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground. A larger volume of soil won't dry out as quickly, so choose the largest gardening pot you can find. It's fine to mix compatible plants together in a single large planter. Make certain that every 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. 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 may be 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 your plants. 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 in containers, 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 can take some work to grow as a container vegetable. For pots, seek out varieties specifically recommended for containers, that are "determinate"--meaning they will grow to a certain size, then stop and bear all their fruit in a few weeks. You will need a large container, at least 20-24 inches in diameter. Tomatoes sprawl and the fruits get heavy, so provide a cage for all but the most dwarf determinate tomato varieties. Or install sturdy stakes in the vegetable container when you plant and be attentive to tying new shoots to the stakes.