Mary Ann Steele
Somervell County Master Gardener
If you don’t have the space for a vegetable or fruit garden, consider the possibility of container gardening. A patio, deck, balcony, or doorstep can provide enough space for a productive, attractive display.
The benefits of container gardens extend beyond bushels of fresh produce. When growing in these closed system environments, you can manage soil and pests. A container garden is a sure way to introduce children to the joys and rewards of vegetable gardening.
Container gardens can serve as easy to manage closed systems but they are prone to certain problems:
- Tall spindly plants – caused by insufficient light or excessive nitrogen – remedied by moving the container to a sunnier area or reducing feeding intervals.
- Plants yellowing from the bottom – caused by excessive water – remedied by reducing water intervals and checking for proper drainage.
- Plants wilting – caused by poor drainage and aeration – remedied by increasing drainage holes.
- Marginal burning of leaves – caused by leaching the container with tap water.
- Plants stunted in growth – usually caused by low temperature or low phosphate – remedied by relocating the pot to a warmer area or increasing phosphates in fertilizer.
A repurposed bathtub, old water or feed trough – just about any vessel can work as a container but it needs to be sized correctly and must drain well.
As a closed system, a container can sustain only so many plants. It’s important to limit the number of cultivars based on your pots and the eventual size of the plants.
The container’s size will be determined by the plant grown in it. Shallow rooted crops, such as lettuce, peppers, radishes, and herbs, need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an 8 inch soil depth. Bushel baskets, half barrels, wooden tubs, or large pressed paper containers are ideal for growing tomatoes, squash, pole beans, and cucumbers.
Containers should drain well so the plant’s roots, which require both air and water, don’t drown or become water logged. All containers, whether clay, wood, plastic, or ceramic, should have an adequate number of holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Setting the containers on a solid surface, such as a cement or patio floor, reduces drainage so raise the container 1 – 2 inches off the floor with blocks of wood to solve the problem. Also, adding 1 inch of coarse gravel to the bottom of a container can improve drainage.
The stuff that goes into the container, the plant media, delivers all the water, nutrients, and physical structure and support that your plants need to grow vigorous roots, stalks, leaves, and fruit. Unfortunately, soil from your yard isn’t a good choice. A fairly light weight mix is needed for container gardens. The growing medium will need an occasional water soluble fertilizer boost.
With your seeds, containers, and growing medium prepared, it’s time for the fun part: planting your produce patch. Read the back of your seed package to determine when to sprout your seeds and how many hours of sunlight they need.
After planting, gently water the seeds being careful to not displace them. As the seedlings pop and start to grow, thin them out so they have plenty of room to grow.
Container gardening makes it easy for everyone to grow produce. Whether you have a few pots of fresh herbs on your window sill or a patio filled with flats of tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and pole beans, any space with warm sunshine makes a great place. Before long you will be hunting for sunny spots for even more pots.
“For all things produced in a garden, whether of salads or fruits, a poor man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has none.”
John Claudius Loudon
Scottish Botanist (1783-1843)