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If you want a vegetable garden but can’t find a sunny spot in your yard, consider container growing.
Larger containers have more soil and won’t dry out as quickly, so choose the biggest pot you can.
Porous pots, like clay pots, will need more frequent watering than nonporous pots, like glazed or plastic pots.
Greens, such as lettuce and spinach, have shallow roots and will do well in flatter containers.
Container plants are exposed to weather extremes more than plants in the ground.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
One of the most frequent suggestions I’ve had for an article is one on growing vegetables in containers. Many of you long for a vegetable garden, but simply don’t have the space in your yard.
This is a subject I’m familiar with, as I have a friend who faced this problem and chose to grow in containers, rather than sacrifice her veggie dreams. Over the years, she’s grown virtually every type of crop and has the equivalent of an 8-by-10-foot garden growing on her deck.
If you, too, want a vegetable garden but can’t find a sunny spot in your yard, consider container growing. A big container, good potting soil and a spot that receives at least six hours of full sun a day are all you need to bring out the vegetable gardener in you.
Pros and cons
Growing vegetables in containers comes with some advantages. Because you control the growing environment, you can overcome problems like poorly draining soil, burrowing pests and soil-borne diseases.
Plus, soil in pots warms up more quickly than it does in the ground, so slow-growing vegetables like tomatoes and peppers can get off to a faster start. If you have mobility issues, tall pots can allow you to tend your plants without kneeling or squatting.
You can also move the pots to follow the sun, allowing you to take advantage of sun exposure as it moves throughout the day. Put large containers on wheeled platforms to move them as needed.
The main disadvantage to growing vegetables in containers is that they will require more maintenance from you, and, in particular, more frequent monitoring of water levels. Because soil dries out more quickly in containers than in the ground, your plants will require more frequent watering.
Choosing a container
When it comes to choosing a container, the rule of thumb is that bigger is better. Larger containers have more soil and won’t dry out as quickly, so choose the biggest pot you can.
Larger containers also give plant roots the room they need when growing, as many vegetables don’t do well if their roots are restricted. In fact, most problems with container gardening of vegetables can be traced to the container being too small, resulting in a restricted root environment.
Large flowerpots, plastic-lined bushel baskets, half barrels, window boxes, planters and large containers such as 5-gallon buckets work well for growing most vegetables.
Standard-sized tomatoes need a container at least 20 to 22 inches in diameter. Peppers like pots at least 16 inches in diameter, and vining crops require a 20-inch or larger container. Greens, such as lettuce and spinach, have shallow roots and will do well in flatter containers.
Porous pots, like clay pots, will need more frequent watering than nonporous pots, like glazed or plastic pots. Container color plays a role, too, as dark colors absorb heat and can make the soil too warm for some vegetables in the summer.
Don’t use containers made of treated wood, as they may contain chemicals that can leach into the soil.
Make sure that the container has drainage holes for excess water. If your container doesn’t have them, add drainage holes, using a 1⁄4-inch drill bit to create holes in the bottom. Line the bottom of the container with screen or landscape cloth to prevent soil from spilling through the holes, and then fill your pot with a potting mix made for containers.
If your plant is one that grows tall or produces vines, provide a support, like a wire cage or a trellis.
Container plants are exposed to weather extremes more than plants in the ground. On very hot days, containers may need to be watered once or twice a day.
Correct watering is crucial to growing a healthy and productive plant. If a plant is allowed to become too dry, the feeder roots become damaged. When finally watered, the plant’s energy is used to grow new feeder roots and not for flowering or fruit growth, resulting in a stressed plant and lower productivity.
If you water too frequently, most of the soil nutrients can be washed out the bottom of the container. Gauge the moisture need of the soil by sticking your finger or a small stick into the soil; if the soil sticks to your finger or stick, water isn’t needed.
Vegetables for containers
Vegetables that will grow best in containers are those that have a confined growth habit, like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beets, radish, carrots, eggplants, peppers, determinate (bush) tomatoes, bush beans, bush cucumbers, bush varieties of squash, green onions, potatoes, and herbs.
Any variety can be grown in a container, but compact plants do best. Look for plants suitable for growing in small spaces. Catalogs will use key words like “bush,” “compact,” and “space saver.”
You can mix compatible plants in a single large pot, which allows you to practice companion planting while also creating beautiful combinations of fruit and foliage. Just be sure to allow enough room for each plant’s root system.
Come visit my blog for more talk about container gardening at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth/, including suggestions for specific varieties of vegetables for containers.
Karen Hager’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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