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Country Gardens: Vegetables in pots

Many vegetables can be grown in containers from seed to harvest.

Many vegetables can be grown in containers from seed to harvest.

    If you have poor garden soil, limited space, not enough sun in the garden area, or impaired mobility, you may want to grow vegetables in containers. Containers allow you to have a movable garden with the opportunity for a limited vegetable supply, or a supplemental source of vegetables that are difficult to locate for purchase. Container gardening also affords better pest management and a chance to have color in areas where you want it. Container vegetable gardening is also a great way to introduce children to gardening.

    The downside of container gardening is that containers need frequent watering. Since the root system is restricted by the size of the container, some plants may produce smaller fruit, and some vegetables don’t grow well in containers. Vegetables that grow well in containers are those with a confined habit of growth, such as salad greens, spinach, eggplant, Swiss chard, beets, radish, carrots, bok choy,  peppers, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, bush varieties of summer squash, cucumbers and green onions. Herbs to include are basil, chives, thyme and rosemary. It isn’t that other vegetables can’t be grown, but that they may not be as suitable for container culture.

    Be creative with containers; make sure you have drilled holes in the bottom if they are pails or other decorative pots.

    Maintenance can be reduced by good siting of containers, choosing plants suitable for container culture, choosing plants with known pest resistance, and proper and timely maintenance. Container vegetables need to be checked daily and will probably require more maintenance than vegetables grown in the ground. Check daily for insects, mites, and signs of disease, and implement integrated pest management practices if needed.

    A container potting mix needs to provide water, nutrients and support for the plant(s), and should be well aerated, well drained and lightweight. Do not use 100 percent garden soil (often clay soil), which is too heavy, dense and compact. It dries out rapidly, may be too acid or too alkaline, and may contain fungal pathogens, weed seeds or disease organisms.

    Use either a soilless mix or soil mix for your container. Soilless mixes are readily available commercially, under many different names.  These mixes are made up of peat moss, vermiculite, and either coarse sand or wood products. Vermiculite holds several times its weight in water and nutrients and keeps container mixes moist. The soilless mixes are lightweight and may be the best choice if the container is to be moved frequently. A soil mix is often made up of one part sphagnum peat moss or compost, one part pasteurized soil, one part vermiculite or perlite, and some composted cow manure. Soil mixes tend to hold water better than soilless mixes. Check the label to make sure it is a soil mix.

    Use a container that drains well, holds enough soil so you do not have to water more than once a day in the summer, and will be big enough for the plants you choose.

    Here are some ideas: an 8-inch pot holds about one gallon and can grow two to three lettuce, spinach or Swiss chard plants or one herb; a 10-inch pot holds closer to two gallons and can grow two pepper plants or one small tomato plant, such as Tiny Tim, Pixie, Hybrid Patio, all smaller tomato plants that are good for containers. Cherry tomatoes, such as Sweet 100 or Sweet Million, are large plants and need large containers, 3 gallon or more. Look for plants that are described as bush or compact in growth habit and any varieties that have been bred for container growing.

 Here are some specific types good for containers: Beans, snap:   Contender, Provider, Tendercrop Stringless, Bush Blue Lake Beets Baby Canning: Red Ace Hybrid, Burpee Golden Carrots:  Nantes, Gold Nugget, Best of the Bunch, Little Finger, Thumbelina Cucumber: Salad Bush, Burpee Hybrid II, Burpee Pickler, Bush Champion

    The best thing is to try what you like and see how they perform in containers keeping in mind the above hints.

    If you have gardening questions send to

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