Think Inside the Box

Friday May 3, 2013

By guest contributor Joan Casanova.

Spring has sprung. Thinking about vegetable and herb gardening but don't have a yard or live in an urban area? No worries. You can still grow vegetables 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.

Six Steps to Get You Started

1. 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 afford you lots of time because they’re six weeks or older when you put them in the pot, and you’ll begin harvesting much sooner.

2. Use a premium quality potting mix.
Don’t skimp here. A quality mix holds moisture, drains well and gives plant roots the perfect balance of air, moisture and stability to grow a great harvest. Read bag labels to look for quality ingredients such as aged (composted) bark, perlite, lime or dolomite and moisture-holding crystals. Quality potting mix stays fluffy all season long. It does not contain actual dirt that would compact with frequent watering.?

3. Size is everything.
It should be affordable to buy and fill, but large enough to accommodate your plants as they mature. Almost anything can serve as a container -- flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, washtubs, window planters, even large food cans. Larger vegetables 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 the pot has a drainage hole in the bottom. And consider color: Dark colored containers will absorb heat that could possibly damage plant roots

?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. With frequent watering, mixes designed to feed for several months run out sooner in hot weather. 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. One jug of concentrate makes 64 gallons of product.

5. Put pots in a sunny spot.
At least 6-8 hours of sunlight 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. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed.

?6. Water regularly.
Vegetables are at least 90% water. To produce well, they may need daily watering in hot weather since you can’t always rely on rain. Water plants at soil level and 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, patio, baby, dwarf and space saver in their name, they’ll be a good bet. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn’t mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.

What to grow?

  • Any herb does well in a pot.
  • Greens: collards, lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard and others are perfect for pots. You can mix them with flowers for an ornamental touch. Lettuces yield a surprising amount. Pick only the outer leaves to keep the harvest going.
  • Eggplant and peppers of all types make pretty summer pots. Varieties like Husky Cherry Red, Patio, Bush Early Girl, Bush Goliath, and Better Bush are especially easy to manage in containers.
  • Squash and zucchini work in large pots such as half barrels.

    For more information on growing vegetables and herbs in containers visit


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