May 20, 2009
Last week, I had talked to you about planting a vegetable garden.Many of you don’t have the land to plant a garden. In some cases, you may have the land, but the sunny area of your yard may not be suitable for being dug up. Hey, why not dig up that blacktop driveway or concrete patio. What are a few wasted thousands of dollars! The answer to gardening in any of these conditions is to grow your vegetables in containers.
Container gardening doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking using giant containers spread over every available inch of the sunny part of your patio. You can grow vegetables in window boxes or even old 5-gallon paint buckets. The important thing to do is to match the size of the container to the type of plant you are growing in the container. Many people will be happy to grow a few tomato plants in containers. Tomato plants have a large root system. They need to put out lots of roots to support the top growth of the tomato. If you want to grow a tomato plant in a container, you will need at least a 10-inch pot for each plant. A common mistake beginners make when using containers for gardening is to try to put too many plants into one container. In the past, I have had customers ask,” How many tomato plants can I put into a whiskey barrel planter?” They appear shocked when I tell them that one plant would be best, but 2 plants should be the max number to plant. The reason is that when you put 2 plants with large root systems into a container, the roots are always battling for the available food that is in the soil. You are better off planting one tomato plant in the container. You will get a larger yield of tomatoes from the one plant than you will get from 2 plants.
There are all kinds of vegetables that you can grow in containers. I have grown cucumbers in a hanging basket. A bush variety of cucumber will give you a surprising number of cucumbers when the plant is grown in a 12 inch hanging basket. Lettuce, radishes, herbs and baby carrots can be grown in window boxes. You are probably only limited to what you can grow by the number of containers you can place in the sunny areas of your yard.
Like all things in life, there are a few rules to success. When planting vegetables in containers, the containers must have drainage holes in the container. Excess water that builds up in the container will cause the roots to rot. When you use containers to grow vegetables, you should always use potting soil and not topsoil to fill the containers. Potting soil is blended to allow the soil to hold moisture, yet it will allow excess moisture to drain away.
Vegetable plants that are grown in containers will take most of the naturally occurring nutrients out of the soil in a short period of time. You will need to set up and follow a fertilizing schedule from planting time until the frost kills the plants. If you fail to keep up with fertilizing, you will find that your tomato plants will grow and set a few tomatoes, but the tomatoes will not ripen. A lack of fertilizer in the soil will cause your plants to grow poorly, yield less vegetables, be prone to fungus diseases and will be less likely to recover from any attack by insects.
As you may have gathered, vegetable plants need to be grown in sunny areas. If the plants are in an area that gets shaded from the afternoon sun, you will not have good results with your plants.
Vegetable plants that grow tall will need some type of support to keep them from falling over in the container. A full-grown tomato plant that is loaded with tomatoes weighs a lot. If you don’t have the plant staked to a thick pole or you do not have a large enough tomato cage to support the plant, you are likely to have the plant snap from the weight of the plant. Support stakes should be put into the container within a week or so of planting. This will allow you to tie the plant to the stake as the plant grows.
There is more to growing plants in container than can be covered in one column. As the growing season progresses, I will give you more timely tips on things you should be doing with your vegetable garden. This applies to things you need to do when container gardening and when you have your plants in the ground.
Well, that’s all for this week. Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend. I’ll talk to you again next week.