Perhaps you are one of the lucky few whose garden soil is in perfect condition for planting this season. Many of us are eager to get growing but the excess of rain and snow has kept the soil too wet. Don’t let that stop you from getting some crops and flowers planted — look to containers.
With containers, you start with a fresh, clean potting mixture with no latent soil-based disease and no weed seeds. And while the pots might still be exposed to the rain, the lighter consistency of their soil and the good drainage can lead to healthier plants. Pots of plants can be placed in a location with just the right amount of sun or shade and can be located near the kitchen entry for ease of harvest.
Almost anything can be grown in containers. Although it’s more common to see flowers, you can certainly grow vegetables too. When choosing vegetable varieties, opt for smaller plants, perhaps dwarf varieties or determinate types that will stop growing at a certain point. You can even grow root crops in a pot, as long as the pot is deep enough, and there are also dwarf varieties of blueberry and raspberry plants; strawberries in pots are ubiquitous.
Choosing the proper pot is key to your success. In general, bigger is better. Smaller pots get too hot and dry out too quickly and often the roots don’t have room to grow. For vegetables, look to a minimum 5-gallon size for one tomato, pepper or brassica plant. Lettuce, beets, carrots and other small crops can be grown in 3-gallon pots. Whatever pots you choose, make sure there are enough drainage holes to allow water to drain efficiently. It helps to elevate the pots slightly so that they aren’t sitting in a puddle of their own drained water. Locate containers away from the drying effects of prevailing winds. Even the most sun-loving vegetables can benefit from a few hours of shade each day to ease the heating and drying effects of all-day sunshine. Choose lighter-colored containers to deflect the sun’s rays or protect the soil mass from overheating with decorative screens or pot wraps.
Don’t use garden soil in the containers. It is too heavy and dense for proper aeration and drainage. Instead, choose one of the many “soilless” potting mixes available. Usually consisting of peat, vermiculite and bark, these mixes are available with or without added fertilizer. If you prefer to grow organically, opt for a fertilizer-free brand and add your own organic fertilizers. Even if you do purchase a pre-fertilized mix, that fertilizer will not last more than a month or so and will need to be supplemented.
Regular watering — often daily — can take time. Consider investing in a drip system that can automatically water all of your pots at once or plant in self-watering containers. Different sized emitters can control the quantity of water released. All of this necessary watering tends to deplete the nutrients available to the plants and most vegetables require plenty of food. Mix an organic granular fertilizer into the potting mix at planting time or stir a liquid fertilizer into your watering jug once a week. Even specially formulated container fertilizers rarely last more than three or four months so supplementation may be necessary.
For some excellent detailed information, see this University of Illinois online document at https://extension.illinois.edu/containergardening/welcome.cfm or Colorado State University’s information on containers at https://extension.illinois.edu/containergardening/welcome.cfm. For a printed publication on container growing, call the UWEX Learning store at the toll-free number 877-947-7827 and ask for publication A3382.
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.