By Joan Casanova
Editor’s Note: We want to thank the readers who left comments about using sphagnum peat moss. Neither the author nor Living Green Magazine are “condoning” or “promoting” its use. We accidentally posted an old draft of the article and not the final version, which had the carbon-rich material removed from the article. We have struck out the words in the article, but left them in place to mark our “mea culpa.”
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Spring has sprung. Thinking about veggie and herb gardening but don’t have a yard or live in an urban area? No worries.
You can still join in and grow your own veggies and herbs in containers on a deck, patio, or balcony and reap a hefty harvest of fresh food for your dinner table. Plant breeders know that after taste, home gardeners want a high yield in a small space, so they’ve developed varieties that can grow in a small area, and even flourish in containers.
Herbs are a common choice for container gardeners, but many vegetables lend themselves well to container gardening too. With some thought to selecting bush or dwarf varieties, almost any vegetable can be adapted to growing in a pot. Vegetables that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a long period of time, like tomatoes and peppers, are perfect for container gardens.
What you can grow in containers is limited only by the size of the container and your imagination. How about a Summer Salad container? Plant a tomato, a cucumber and some parsley or chives all in a large (24-30″) container. They grow well together and have the same water and sun requirements.
Here’s six steps for container garden success
1. Plant time-saving transplants – When you’re ready to begin potting up vegetables and herbs, opt for transplants – seedlings that have already been started – rather than starting from seed. “Transplants will buy you lots of time because plants are six weeks or older when you put them in the pot, and you’ll be harvesting much sooner,” says Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants and grandson of founders, Bonnie and Livingston Paulk. You can find a wide variety of veggie and herb transplants, (many are compact varieties perfect for containers) available at garden retailers nationwide and grown near you.
2. Use a premium quality potting mix. Don’t skimp here. A quality mix holds moisture and drains well, giving plant roots the perfect balance of air, moisture, and stability to grow a great harvest. Read bag labels to look for quality ingredients: sphagnum peat moss, aged (composted) bark, perlite, lime or dolomite, and sometimes moisture-holding crystals. Quality potting mix stays fluffy all season long. It does not contain actual dirt that would compact with frequent watering.
Use a premium quality potting mix. Don’t skimp here. A quality mix holds moisture but drains well; giving plant roots the perfect balance of air, moisture, and stability to grow a great harvest. Read bag labels to look for quality ingredients like: aged (composted) bark, perlite, lime or dolomite, and sometimes moisture-holding crystals. Quality potting mix stays fluffy all season long. It does not contain actual dirt that would compact with frequent watering.
3. Pick the right pot. It should be affordable to buy and fill, and large enough to accommodate your plants as they mature. Almost anything can serve as a container– flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, bushel baskets, washtubs, window planters, even large food cans. Larger veggies, like tomatoes and eggplants, will need a larger container, at least 5 gallons for each plant. When in doubt, bigger is always better, the plants will look better and last longer because the roots will have more room to grow. Be sure that the pot has a drainage hole in the bottom.
4. Feed your plants. Even if your potting mix came with fertilizer already mixed in, you may need to feed your plants. Some potting mixes include just enough fertilizer to give plants a charge when they’re starting. Mixes designed to feed for several months run out sooner in hot weather with frequent watering. Add timed-release granules or try a soluble fertilizer such as the “little green jug” of Bonnie Plant Food for quick results. It’s organic in nature, environmentally friendly, an excellent food source for beneficial organisms in the soil and helps support healthy soil and overall plant growth.
5. Put pots in a sunny spot. At least 6 hours is best. The sun drives energy for production and for making sugars, acids, and other compounds responsible for the fullest flavor. Make sure pots on a deck or porch get enough sunlight and move them to a sunny spot if shade encroaches.
6. Water regularly. Vegetables are at least 90% water. To produce well, they may need daily watering in hot weather. The easiest way to do this is set up a drip system on a timer. It’s a little more work on the front end, but it makes for as close to auto-pilot watering as you can get. (Most herbs, except the big-leaved ones like basil, can get by with a little less water.) Be sure to water before the sun goes down, leaves will need to dry before nightfall.
Be on the lookout for key words like bush, compact, and space saver.
Here are some veggie and herb varieties to get your container gardens growing.
- Eggplant: Hansel Mini eggplant
- Green Beans: (Pole beans give a higher yield in a small footprint) Blue Lake, French Dwarf
- Leaf Lettuce: Buttercrunch, Bibb
- Peppers: Cubanelle, Sweet Banana, Jalapeno
- Tomatoes: Patio, Husky cherry Red, Sweet and Neat, Bush Early Girl, Bush Goliath, and Better Bush
- Greek Columnar Basil
Any herb will do well in a pot!
Joan Casanova is the founder of Green Earth Media Group in Avondale, PA. For more information on vegetable and herb varieties, gardening tips, ideas and advice, visit www.bonnieplants.com.