Interested in having a garden, but have limited space? Maybe you live in an apartment, have poor soil quality, or you just don’t have many areas that get enough sunlight. Maybe you’ve tried gardening, but given up, labeling yourself as one of those who “just doesn’t have a green thumb.” Well, I’m here to tell you, don’t give up! Try container gardening. Growing your own vegetables in containers is easy and can be a very rewarding experience. Container gardens also tend to have fewer weed, pest, and disease problems then regular in-ground gardens. Following just a few guidelines, you can have a bountiful harvest of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs right by your front (or back) door-step!
So, what are these guidelines, you ask? Well, you first want to choose the right container. This could be a large flowerpot, window box, planter, 5-gallon bucket, half-barrel, recycled material…the list can be endless. Just as long as your container is big enough and has proper drainage. Generally, the container should be at least 10 inches wide and 10 inches deep. The bigger the better, as it will give the roots more space to grow, and the soil will not dry out as fast. Tomatoes, for instance, do best in larger pots, preferably the size of a five-gallon bucket. For many herbs, you can get away with planting two or three different types in the same container. It is also important that your container has drainage holes, so water can escape and air can circulate. Use a one-fourth inch drill bit to create holes in the bottom or along the sides near the bottom of the container if it does not have holes.
Most of us know plants need both sunlight and soil. But just how much sunlight and what type of soil? If you are growing vegetables, it is best to have full sun – which means at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. An advantage of growing in containers is that you can easily place a container in an area of your yard or on a balcony that receives adequate sunlight, when it would be much more difficult to build a garden in these same areas.
So what about soil? When growing in containers, you want to make sure you get potting soil that is made for containers. These mixes will contain materials such as peat, perlite, and vermiculite for both good drainage and moisture-holding capacity, and materials such as compost and nutrient amendments that will keep your plants healthy. You can simply ask your nursery specialist for a mix formulated to grow vegetables in large outdoor containers. If you are growing a lot of vegetables, you can cut down on costs by making your own mix. Just make sure you have a good balance of the aforementioned materials, and mix in a slow-release vegetable fertilizer, following directions on the label.
Now that you have your container, your soil, and a sunny location, it is time to get the plants. Some plants are best bought as transplants or grown from seed started indoors. Vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and strawberries fall into this category. Other plants, such as root crops, arugula, lettuce, spinach, mustards, beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, okra, cilantro, and basil can be started from seed directly into containers.
Okay, so you have all the materials. Now what? If you are growing from transplants, first thoroughly moisten the potting mix and the plant’s soil. “Transplant shock” is reduced when there is proper moisture. Set plants at about the same level they were growing in their original pot. For tomatoes, remove lower leaves and plant deeper in the container. If you are growing from seed, simply plant the seeds according to their label. A good rule of thumb is to plant the seed to a depth of about two to three times the seed’s diameter. If you are worried about your seeds not germinating, go ahead and plant more seeds than you need. But remember to thin to appropriate spacing if they do, indeed, all come up. Spacing will be specific to the type of vegetable.
After planting, water gently but thoroughly. Monitor your container garden, making sure the potting mix does not dry out. You can reduce evaporation by mulching with leaf litter, straw, or a similar material. Plants that grow tall or produce vines, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, will need support. A wire cage or pole, inserted into the container at planting time, will support the plant as it grows.
Last step is to call over all your friends and family and show off your beautiful vegetable plants! They will surely be impressed by your “green thumb” and will be eager to learn your gardening secrets.