If you don't have the space or desire to grow vegetables in your yard, container gardening is a great way to take advantage of fresh vegetables without an actual garden. While more attention will need to be paid to watering your plants, you won't have to concern yourself with poor soil or soil-based pests.
Container vegetable plants can be placed in a sunny window, outside on a patio or balcony, on your outdoor steps, or anywhere that will allow them to soak up some sunshine. For best results, choose vegetables that don't take up too much root space, such as radishes or beets, or those that bear their vegetables over an extended period of time like tomatoes or peppers (this is because they tend to take up less "ground" space, as they grow up rather than out).
Choosing a Container
Containers can be just about anything, from decorative pots to recycled coffee cans. Whatever you choose, there are a few things you'll need to be sure of before planting.
- Drainage Holes - Your chosen containers should have holes at the bottom to allow for proper drainage when watering. Purchased planters will have these already in place, but you can punch the holes yourself if using something a little more unconventional as your container.
- Size - Size does matter! Larger plants or those with extended root systems will need larger containers. Smaller plants can be placed in smaller containers, or you can plant several of them in a single large planter. Make sure you have at least 8" of depth to each container to allow room for the roots to grow.
- Safety - Containers that have ever held substances that are toxic to either people or plants should never be reused as planting containers.
While you may be tempted to go out into your garden or other outdoor area to scoop up some dirt for planting, resist this plan. Existing outdoor soil could be riddled with pests or weeds, and will likely contain too much clay to allow your container plants to thrive.
- Potting Mix - Purchase a lightweight potting soil mix from a garden supply center or nursery. The mixture should contain enough organic matter to allow it to hold onto moisture.
- Soil-free Mixes - You can use sterile, soil-free mixes to grow your vegetables in, but they generally don't hold as much water as soil does, and you'll have to add compost to the mix before planting.
- Fertilizer - Add a bit of light, slow-release fertilizer to your soil if it isn't already included in the mix. Indoor plants will require less fertilizer than those kept outdoors.
- Sowing Time - Plant your seeds in their containers at the same time as you would outdoors in a garden. For indoor container vegetables, you can plant any time.
How-To - Fill each container to within 1" of the top with your soil mixture. Add a bit of water to dampen the soil. Plant the seeds according to the directions on the envelopes, covering with a thin layer of soil.
Water - After your seeds have been planted, water the containers thoroughly but gently so as not to shift the newly sewn seeds.
Watering and Care
- Monitor Water - Because you're using such a small amount of soil for container plants as opposed to the vast expanse of soil in a garden, your plants can tend to dry out quickly. Monitor your plants daily to see if they need watering.
Amount of Water - Sprinkle water over the plant until you see it trickling out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the container.
Mulch - Adding a layer of mulch over the soil in your containers can help with water retention if your plants are drying out too quickly.
Pests - While vegetables grown in containers are less likely to be damaged by pests and parasites, they are still vulnerable, especially if they are grown outdoors. Monitor your plants regularly to check for signs of damage or failure to thrive.
Weather Conditions - In extreme weather, protect your container vegetables where possible. In high heat, move your plants to a shady area if they seem to be wilting. In cases of high winds or damaging rain or hail, move the plants to a sheltered spot.
Vegetables grown in containers can add a wonderful, natural element to your home decor or make a nice addition to your patio or entryway. Use your imagination to find new and interesting containers and locations to grow your bountiful plants!