Don’t let limited yard space keep you from growing vegetables-as long as there is at least five hours of sunshine available in your chosen spot, be it a patio, doorstep or windowsill, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy your own harvest. With the right container, and a little bit of time devoted to watering and fertilizing, wonderful, homegrown vegetables can grace your dining room table this season. Containers are also great for gardeners who are unable to bend down to the ground; a container raises the plant by at least a foot, depending on its height, enabling someone to sit or stand to tend to the plant and its yield.
There are some tips and tricks to keep in mind. Many vegetables need more soil than you would think. For instance, a single tomato needs at least 5 gallons of soil, which is about a 12-inch pot, but a bushel basket is even better, as it holds about 8 ½ gallons of soil, approximately the equivalent of a 15-inch pot. Containers need to be large to provide not only a space for root growth but also to allow for more water storage in the soil. Keeping the soil at a relatively constant moisture level will help with production. The container needs to have holes in the bottom allowing for excess water to drain (as we know, wet “feet” aren’t any fun). “Soil-less” potting mix works best in containers. These mixes are lightweight with adequate, even water retention, allowing water to drain rather quickly and leaving plenty of room for air and root growth.
Watering is the most important part of container gardening. Keeping the soil evenly moist promotes good plant health and production. The type of plants you use, the size of the container, the amount of soil, and weather conditions will determine how much and when you’ll need to water, possibly as often as every day. Always finger check the soil to make sure it needs water.
The demand for plant breeders to develop plants that work great in containers continues to grow and the availability of compact plants with good yields is increasing.
The following are some plant suggestions and corresponding container sizes for your gardens.
- Beets: 5 gallons of soil and a deep container; Varieties: Chioggia, Detroit Dark Red, Early Wonder
- Broccoli: 1 plant per 5 gallons of soil; Varieties: Purple Sprouting, Super Blend
- Carrots: at least 12-inches worth of soil and should be grown from seed; Varieties: Adelaide Baby, Little Finger, Ox Heart, and Thumbelina
- Cucumbers: a 12-inch deep container with at least 5 gallons of soil; Varieties: Bush Champion, Early Pik, and Spacemaster
- Eggplant: at least 3 gallons of soil are needed, approximately a 10-inch container; Varieties: Black Beauty, Prosperosa, Rosa Bianca, and Snowy White
- Lettuce: at least 2 gallons of soil and work well in window boxes; Varieties: Any type of lettuce will work, but Black Seeded Simpson and Mesclun mixes are showy and tasty
- Peppers: 1 plant can grow in 2 gallons of soil, or an 8-inch pot; 5 plants require 15 gallons; Varieties: Sweet: California Wonder Bell, Giant Szegedi, Purple Beauty Bell, Redskin, and Sweet Banana; Varieties: Hot: Bulgarian Carrot, Jalapeno, Marbles, and Thai Hot
- Radishes: need a deep 10-inch container’s worth of soil; should be grown from seed; Varieties: Cherriette Hybrid, Cherry Belle, Easter Egg Blend, French Breakfast
- Spinach: requires 2 gallons of soil; also works well in window boxes; Varieties: Renegade, Melody Hybrid, Space Hybrid
- Tomatoes: need 5 gallons or a bushel basket of soil; Varieties: Cherry-like: Husky Cherry Red Hybrid, Patio, Small Fry, Tiny Tim, and Tumbling Tom ; Varieties: Good “slicers”: Better Boy, Better Bush, Celebrity, and Early Girl
As always, read the plant tag or seed package. This will tell you how big a mature plant will become, determining if it is container-worthy by making sure the container and the space will allow it to grow correctly. Herbs are suited to containers-even wild and invasive mint can be controlled in a container. Lavender and rosemary like warm, well-drained soil and thrive in containers. This will be one of the only times you should limit the number of plants in the container. Remember: you are growing a crop not a display, though you may never see anything more pleasing to the eye than your own colorful vegetable container garden.
Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.
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