Horticulture News: Never say never when it comes to gardening

Container gardens a great solution for limited space

By Adam Leonberger, Published:

It’s time to start that vegetable garden!

But wait — you either don’t have the space in your lawn for a garden, live some place where there is no lawn area for a garden, 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 vegetables in a mini-garden on a patio, deck 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.

Vegetables that 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 more space because of their growth characteristics.

Variety selection

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 gallon (or larger) cans or pails, plastic tubs or wooden boxes or barrels. 

You will need to ensure that you have space for the root development of your plant. Pots from 6-10 inches in diameter are good for green onions, 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. 

Good drainage

Drainage is very important to ensure that your plants will not drown.   

First, make holes in containers that do not drain. The holes are best located along the side of the container, about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch from the bottom. The next step is adding soil. The ideal planting medium for containers should provide rapid drainage with sufficient water retention to keep the root zone uniformly moist. A soilless potting mix works best.

Time to plant

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. In general you can grow one plant in a 5-gallon size container; and three plants in a 15-gallon size container. 

Watering correctly is essential. 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. 

Be creative! Give these different types of containers a try if you are adventurous!  

For more information on this and other horticultural issues, contact the Franklin County Extension Office, 101 Lakeview Court, 502-695-9035, or adam.leonberger@uky.edu.

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