Container Vegetable Gardening Basics
an article by horticulturist Scott Gray

The following article is by Scott Gray, and includes links to his site, allgardenplanters.com. It is an introduction to container vegetable gardening, including tips on best varieties for containers, watering, feeding, pruning, light requirements, and harvesting.
The content is entirely his, and there is no financial connection between Scott's business and Perennial Solutions, but we do think it has a lot of good information.

 

Scott's article:
Container vegetable gardening is a great way to get maximum use out of minimum space. Even if all you have to work with is a sunny patio or small deck, you can still make use of some
fiberglass garden planters or half whiskey barrels to grow tomatoes, peppers, beans, chard, lettuces, and all kinds of fresh herbs.

Start with good potting soil. You can buy standard potting soil in 40 pound bags at any garden center or big box store for a modest amount of money, or you can spend a bit more and invest in organic potting soil.

Standard sterile potting soil will have to be discarded at the end of the growing season, but you can reuse organic potting soil the next season, or you can spread it on your lawn or work it into an in-ground garden bed. It costs a bit more, but you get more out of it.

Resist the urge to use dirt from your yard to fill your containers. Ordinary dirt does not have the right nutrient mix to give you the best crop, and it may not drain properly or at all. Dirt can also contain insects and diseases that may harm your vegetable plants.

When you fill your containers, start by layering an inch or two of gravel or stone in the bottom to encourage proper drainage. Mix two thirds potting mix to one third composted manure (also sold in 40 pound bags at garden centers) and fill your containers about three quarters of the way full.

Choosing the right varieties of vegetables is crucial to success. Purchase the largest patio tomato and pepper plants you can find. Tomatoes should have the letters 'VFR' printed on the varietal tags. These letters indicate that the variety you are buying is resistant to wilt and other common tomato viruses.

Look for large plants with thick stems that are especially designed for container planting, and select the biggest ones you can afford.

Do not attempt to grow tomatoes or peppers from seed in your container garden. These vegetables have to be started indoors ahead of the warm weather in order to be successful, and growing them from seed isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.

Other vegetables have short growing seasons and are so easy to start from seed that buying trays of starts is unnecessary. Container vegetables that grow easily from seed include all lettuce varieties, chard, collards, spinach, beans, and peas.

Look for 'bush' variety beans rather than 'pole' beans or climbers unless you have a fence or a railing the beans can climb on. Pole beans are more productive than bush beans, but you do have to provide some support for them. Beans come in many colors and can be quite attractive in their own right, especially if you mix several varieties in one pot. Purple runner beans, yellow wax beans, and traditional green beans are a nice mix.

Some vegetables are rather awkward to grow in containers because of their large size. These include pumpkins, all varieties of summer and winter squash, and corn. If you have the space to allow a pumpkin or squash vine to ramble out of its container all over your deck, you can certainly give it a try, and your kids will love you for it. Squash and pumpkins grow easily from seed, but most have a long season (up to 120 days), so start them early.

Radishes, carrots, and turnips can be grown in deep containers and started from seed. Combine them in large pots with taller, showier vegetables like peppers and beans, or tomatoes and lettuce, to make your container more decorative.

Your container vegetable garden will also require regular food and water and at least four hours of strong afternoon sun. To check your vegetables for water, stick your finger about an inch deep into the container. The soil should feel moist but not soggy.

Try to keep a constant level of moisture in your container: too wet and the roots of your vegetables will rot; too dry and the leaves will turn crisp and the plant will suffer. Use an all-purpose plant food like Miracle Grow according to package directions to increase yield, but don't overfeed your vegetables or you could end up with lots of great foliage but a small number of fruits.

Finally, harvest your vegetables regularly when they start to mature. Regular harvesting will encourage greater yields and keep your plants producing into fall. Lettuce, chard, and collards can be cut several leaves at a time and left to grow back for another meal in another week or so. Beans are especially prolific. The more beans you pick, the more beans the plant will make.

Container vegetable gardening is easy and fun. It's amazing how much you can grow in a small space. Start with a single pot and then, once you feel more comfortable, branch out as far as your porch or yard will allow. The sky is literally the limit!

About the Author:
Scott Gray is a garden enthusiast who loves to relax taking care of his garden. For more information about container gardening ideas, metal garden planters and related gardening information, be sure to visit his site allgardenplanters.com.