Container lets you garden when space is limited

By KIM COWHERD Extension Agent for Horticulture Published:

Its time to start that vegetable garden!

But perhaps you dont have the space in your lawn for a garden, you live some place where there is no lawn area for a garden, you have no suitable space available, or perhaps you physically are unable to get down to the ground to garden.

So now what?

Gardens can be whatever or wherever you want to make them. Container gardening is a very practical, easy solution for those who are unable to actually have an old fashioned, down-in-the-dirt garden. You can grow nutritious, delicious vegetables in a mini-garden on a patio, deck, porch or doorstep. Also containers can be set on tables, benches, or other elevated spaces for those for who bending or kneeling is no longer comfortable or an option. Smaller containers may also be hung from a sturdy support for easy standing access.

Vegetables which are ideally suited for growing in containers include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes and parsley. Pole beans and cucumbers also do well in this type of garden, but they do require considerably more space because of their vining growth habit.

Variety selection is very important in container vegetable gardening. Here are some of the varieties of vegetables that you may consider: Tomatoes Patio, Heartland, Bush Early Girl, Sweet Baby Girl (cherry); Peppers most all varieties will do well; Green Beans- Bush Romano, Bush Blue Lake; Eggplant Black Beauty, Ghostbuster (white); Cucumber- Bush Pickle, Fanfare, Salad Bush. Check with local garden centers and seed catalogs for availability and for other suitable selections.

Almost any type of container can be used for growing vegetable plants. Try using bushel baskets, gallon (or larger) cans or pails, plastic tubs, large pressed paper containers or wooden boxes or barrels. The size of the container will vary according to the vegetable you are going to grow and your space available for the container.

You will need to ensure that you have adequate space for the root development of your plant in your container. Pots from 6 to 10 inches in diameter are good for green onion, parsley and herbs. Shallow rooted crops like lettuce, peppers, and radishes and most herbs need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an 8-inch soil depth. For most vegetable crops such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, you will find 5-gallon containers are the most suitable size. They are fairly easy to handle and provide adequate space for root growth.

Drainage is very important to insure that your plants will not drown. First, carefully drill or poke additional holes in containers that do not drain quickly after each watering. The drain holes are best located along the side of the container, about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch from the bottom.

Next, add no more than 1 inch of coarse gravel (or small washed pea gravel or small pieces of broken clay pots) in the bottom of the container. Styrofoam packing peanuts work very well and are light in weight. These are especially beneficial for hanging containers or containers that will need to be moveable.

Raise your container off of the deck or patio slightly by setting it on bricks or some type of block. This will ensure that the container will drain well and also reduce any damage to your deck!

The next step is adding soil (dirt is what is on your kitchen floor, soil is what plants grow in!). The soil that you use will be a critical component of your container garden.

The ideal planting medium for containers should provide rapid drainage with sufficient water retention to keep the root zone uniformly moist. Most container gardeners have found that a "soilless" potting mix works best. In addition to draining quickly, "soilless" mixes are lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds.

These mixes can be purchased from garden centers in various size bags and under many different brand names.

Next it is time for planting!

Planting directions, spacing requirements and mature size for most vegetables can be found on the seed packet or plant tag. A container can only hold a certain number of plants; therefore, it is important to limit the number of plants in a container based on the container size and the eventual size of the plant at maturity. In general you can grow one plant in a 5-gallon size container, and three plants in a 15-gallon size container.

Best suited for container culture are vegetables which may be easily transplanted. Transplants may be purchased from local nurseries. Most vegetables should be transplanted into containers when they develop their first two to three true leaves. Transplanting should be done carefully to avoid injury to the young root system. Or you may wish to grow your own transplants from seed.

Watering is an essential part of your container garden. Generally one watering per day is adequate. Water with a watering can or a hose attachment that emits a gentle spray to avoid washing away soil and damaging your plants. If at all possible, avoid getting the leaves of plants wet since wet leaves will encourage plant diseases.

Regular fertilization applications should be done for optimum plant growth. Time-released fertilizer that releases nutrients over a period of time can also be used. There are many good commercial, specially formulated fertilizer mixes available. Be sure to read closely and follow all the directions on the label of the specific fertilizer for the crop you are growing.

You may need to add support for your vegetable plants as they grow. Placing a wire cage or small trellis into or around the container to help keep the plants upright may be needed.

Other suggestions for container gardening include planting directly into the bag of soil by cutting small holes to insert the plants. Also you may find hanging bags for planting at your local nurseries- these may be best for vining type vegetables. Be creative! Give these different types of containers a try if you are adventurous!

Information for this article was gathered from articles from the Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University; and the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System. Other information may be found at your local library or on the Internet.

Please contact me with any horticultural questions you may have and send me pictures or stories of your successes with container gardening! My email is and the Extension Office phone is 695-9035. Our office is located at 101 Lakeview Ct.

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