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Can you grow vegetables in pots? Yes, it.

Can you grow vegetables in pots? Yes, if . . .

It's possible to grow almost any vegetable in a container--from large, bushy tomatoes to hefty potatoes. All you need are some big pots and a place to put them that gets full sun for at least 6 hours a day.

Advantages are many. Garden space may be limited, but there are still places where you can grow container vegetables-- along walks or driveways, or on decks or patios. You start with sterile potting mix, so you can get high-quality homegrown crops even if your garden soil is plagued with gophers, poor drainage, nematodes, verticillium wilt, or wireworms. This kind of gardening involves little bending and no digging, so it's great for people with back or joint problems and those who don't want to get too dirty. And tending and harvesting are usually more convenient, since containers can be placed close to the house.

Even if you already have a productive vegetable plot, you still might want to plant some containers. Soil in containers warms more quickly in spring, so vegetables get a faster start and produce early. In cool, wet climates like that of the Northwest, vegetables can be planted earlier in containers than in garden beds; since the soil doesn't need to be tilled, you don't have to wait for it to dry out before planting.

Containers filled with ripening vegetables can also be decorative. A blank wall, an empty corner, or a large expanse of deck or paving can be transformed into an oasis of interesting textures and colors.

Special requirements for containers

Since roots of plants grown in containers are aboveground, they're more sensitive to temperature extremes than are those of plants growing in the ground. In cold climates, protect tender plants from late frosts in spring; move pots next to the house or cover them with burlap if frost is predicted. In the desert or hot inland valleys, extreme heat can ravage plants.

When the mercury starts to climb, set containers where they'll get afternoon shade. Containers also need a constant supply of moisture. As plants grow, pots become more rootbound. In midsummer heat, soil can dry out quickly. The smaller the container, the more often you'll have to water--sometimes twice a day. If you can't do that, use large containers: a greater volume of soil holds moisture longer. To cut down on labor even more, use drip irrigation regulated by a time clock.

If you live in a windy area, screen vegetables to prevent wilt and foliage damage and to keep tall plants from tipping over.

Which vegetables to try?

Don't restrict yourself to the smaller varieties you may see advertised as ideal for containers. Standard-size vegetables are often more productive and tastier than some of the more compact bush varieties.

Also keep in mind that certain varieties perform best in particular climates. Some are developed for short or long growing seasons, or warm climates; others do better in areas with cool, wet seasons. For a list of vegetable varieties suited to your climate, call your nearest farm advisor or county agent.

Shallow-rooted crops like chard, herbs, lettuce, onions, radishes, and spinach are a snap to grow. Choose any type that you would normally plant in the ground.

Carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, turnips, and other root crops are simple as long as you have a container that's deep enough. For carrots, choose a container that's twice as deep as the length they'll reach at maturity.

Tall or sprawling vegetables with extensive root systems (such as eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes) will bear well if they have enough room for roots to develop. Some varieties may be easier than others. Avoid tomatoes advertised as whoppers; choose kinds with standard-size fruit, such as "Ace', "Celebrity', and "Champion', or small or cherry-size fruit, such as "Pixie', "Small Fry' and "Sweetie'. Stake or cage tomatoes for support.

Summer squash are more successful than winter squash, since they bear longer. Try crookneck, scallop, and zucchini types.

For highest yields, provide support for vining or trailing crops such as beans, cucumbers, and peas. Train them on stakes and string, chicken wire, a trellis (see photograph on page 104), or a fence.

Corn, melons, large squash, and pumpkins may not be worth the effort (although some gardeners have successfully grown corn in whiskey half-barrels); it's difficult to keep up with the watering, and the harvest is likely to be relatively scant. Experienced gardeners have reported getting only one or two small watermelons from a container-grown plant; when the weather gets hot, it is difficult to keep soil moist, and developing melons tend to shrivel. If you try melons or large squash, grow them in big pots and tie up fruits on a trellis or fence.

Seeds or transplants: which are best?

Whether it's better to start with seeds or purchase transplants depends on the crop. Plant beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, and radishes from seed. If you make successive plantings about two weeks apart, most of the seed will be used in one season. It may not be worthwhile growing cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes, or squash from seed unless you have another gardener to share the seeds with. Most nurseries carry a wide variety of these and other vegetable seedlings.

When you purchase plants, make sure they aren't leggy or rootbound (look to see whether any roots are poking out of the bottom of the container). Also, buy the smallest size available--either sixpacks or 2-inch pots. Larger sizes (4-inch or 1-gallon) aren't worth the extra cost. Small plants usually catch up in size within a few weeks and produce as much as or more than initially larger ones.

Choose the right size and kind of container for the job

Vegetables will grow in any container that holds soil and has drainage--clay, concrete, fiber, plastic, or wood. Some types of pots, such as wooden half-barrels and plastic ones, retain moisture longer; thick wood insulates the best. In hot climates, use white or light-colored pots (paint them, if necessary) to reflect heat; avoid pots made of fiber (they degrade too fast in hot areas), clay, or metal.

To get a good harvest from vegetables with extensive root systems, such as cucumbers, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes, use containers with a minimum depth of about 16 inches. Plants will grow in smaller pots, but it's more difficult to keep them watered, and your harvest will suffer (see photographs at right). Leafy vegetables and herbs don't need as much room, but use a pot at least 9 inches deep so you don't have to water as often. Our chart on page 106 recommends container sizes for different vegetables.

Planting: use sterile potting mix

Before planting, scrub out pots if they're dirty, and soak porous ones (clay or cement) in water. If pots don't drain, drill three or four 1/2-inch holes in the sides of the pot near the bottom. Cover with a piece of screen or fragment of clay pot.

Fill the container with sterile potting mix to within 1 to 2 inches of the rim. If the mix is made up primarily of peat or other organic material, mix in 1/3 perlite by volume to improve drainage. It's less expensive to buy mix in bulk (look in the yellow pages under Topsoil) if you're planting several pots, but make sure it's sterile. Mix a timed-release complete fertilizer, such as 14-14-14, into the soil, following package directions. Then wet the soil thoroughly.

Space seeds and plants as suggested in the chart. After planting, cover the soil with a layer of mulch (finely ground bark works well) to prevent it from drying and cracking. Put a 1/2-inch-deep layer over seeds, a 1-inch layer over transplanted seedlings.

Don't let up on watering, fertilizing

Check the soil daily and keep it moist but not wet. If the top of the soil dries out, seeds may not germinate. Later, when it's warm and plants are developing flowers and fruit, fluctuations in moisture could cause flowers to drop off, vegetables to shrivel, and blossom ends of peppers, squash, or tomatoes to rot.

It's preferable to water in the morning and to use a fine spray to avoid washing out the soil. Drench soil thoroughly; you should see water running out the pot's bottom. If soil is hard and compacted with roots so water runs down the sides of the container, punch several holes in the top of the soil with a sharp plant stake.

Since nutrients are leached from the soil with every watering, they need to be replenished regularly. To supplement the slow-release fertilizer and maintain a constant level of nutrients, feed every 10 to 14 days with a light dilution of a complete liquid fertilizer.

If light is primarily from one direction, turn the pot periodically so the plant can develop evenly.

Control insects by hand-picking, rinsing the foliage, or spraying with an insecticidal soap.

Table: How deep should the soil be? How far apart the plants?

Photo: Deck farmer harvests tender young "Royal Chantenay' carrots from 14-inch-wide, 10-inch-deep pot. Eggplants and tomatoes ripen in tubs behind. Her basket also holds container-grown bell peppers

Photo: Easy picking: Mature beans are simple to spot inside wooden A-Frame trellis. Plants grow from two long, narrow boxes at frame's base

Photo: No digging required: "Red LaSoda' potatoes tumble from 7-gallon pot. Seed potatoes were put on 4 to 6 inches of soil; soil was added up to top set of leaves till container filled

Photo: Two-stage harvest: "Bibb' lettuce, around tub's outer edge, is ready to pick; when it's gone, "Ruby Ball' cabbage in center will have room to develop

Photo: Ingredients for success: 1. Large containers allow room for roots. 2. Sterile potting mix is free of soil insects, diseases. 3. Timed-release fertilizer maintains nutrients. 4. Seeds or small plants are best for start-up. 5. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, keeps weeds down. 6. Liquid food supplements timed-release fertilizer. 7. Cages or stakes and ties stabilize large plants, vines

Photo: In big pots, plants grow bigger. Started from seed on same date, crookneck squash plant in 16-inch-deep, 18-inch-wide fiber pot at his feet grew three times larger and produced four times as much squash as the plant he's holding (in 5-gallon pot)

Photo: At harvest time in fall, Jerusalem artichokes are removed from pots. Roots confined in 5-gallon container at left were flattened against side of pot. Larger fiber pot at right gave them room to develop fully

Photo: Comparing yields: Crop from 16-inch-deep, 18-inch-wide pot weighed three times more than that from 5-gallon can. And the largest individual root weighed more than twice as much as its can-grown counterpart
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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