By 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.
Container-grown garden benefits extend beyond bushels of fresh produce. When growing in these closed-system environments, you are able to more easily manage soil and pests. They are also a wonderful way to introduce children to the joys and rewards of vegetable gardening.
So, grab your garden gloves and let’s get started! You will need container-friendly plants, fast draining growing media, suitable containers, and time for hands on tending.
Almost any vegetable that thrives in a typical backyard garden will do well as a container grown plant. Just choose the right varieties. The “soil” that goes into the container delivers all the water, nutrients, physical structure, and support that your plants need to grow vigorous roots, stalks, leaves, and fruit. Soil from your yard is definitely NOT a good choice. A fairly lightweight mix is best for container gardening.
Fill your containers with organic soilless mixtures found at your garden supply center or prepare your own. Most container gardeners have found that this mixture works best. In addition to draining quickly, these mixes are lightweight and free from soil borne diseases and weed seed.
To determine when to sprout your seeds and how many hours of sunlight they require, read the back of your seed package. Plant your specimens at the same time you would in a regular garden and place your containers in a sunny location.
You can give your seeds a jump start by germinating them indoors for four to eight weeks before you put them in their final containers. Transplants should have their first two to four true leaves before setting them out.
Tending to your container garden is easy. Just keep the growing medium fairly moist with a diluted water-fertilizer blend and make certain the water drains well. Once a week, leach the unused fertilizer out of the growing mix by watering it with plain water until it flows freely from the bottom. This flushes harmful minerals out of the water.
Water temperature does matter! Make certain the water feels cool before applying to the plants, especially if the water hose has been sitting in the sun.
Vegetables and fruits grown in containers can still be affected by diseases and insects, so be sure to check regularly.
Harvest your fruits and vegetables when they reach the peak of maturity. Pick them when their flavor has been fully developed. After harvest season, compost the plant and the soil or growing medium and use fresh material for next year.
Container gardening makes it easy for everyone to grow produce. You may have only a few pots of herbs on your windowsill or a patio filled with flats of tomatoes, squash, and pole beans. Any space with warm sunshine makes a great place for setting up a container garden.