I’ve written a book! Yeah! I get a lot of questions from friends and family as well as members in different gardening forums about the great success I have growing vegetables in containers. Most of the questions are specific to growing tomatoes in containers so, I decided to write a book that everyone can use as a reference. As much as I love posting on this blog, I think it’s much easier for people to have everything they need in a book. I’ll still continue to post gardening tips here, but be sure to check out the new book – Growing Tomatoes In Containers.
Vegetable plants need sunlight to grow, but how much depends on the type of plant you’re growing. For example, tomato plants need at least six hours of sunlight a day, but eight hours is even better. Before you even decide what type of vegetables to grow in containers, you need to make sure you have an area to place your containers that will give the plants the amount of sunlight or, in some cases shade, they need.
Plants need water too, which is pretty obvious. But, if you give them too much water you can drown them and if you don’t give them enough water or you don’t water them on a consistent basis, you’re not going to get the results you want from your plants. The soil in containers tends to dry out faster than the soil in a traditional garden so you’ll want to make sure you check it every day. And in the very hot months, you’ll need to check it twice a day. It’s best to water your plants in the morning or in the evenings when sun is no longer beating down on them.
And last, but not least, is food. Fertilizing the soil on a regular basis helps to ensure your plants are getting the nutrients they need. Different plants need different types of fertilizers so be sure to feed your vegetable plants the correct food.
The soil, also called growing media, that you use in your containers plays an important roll in the overall health of your plants. Soil from your yard or a traditional garden should never be used for container vegetable gardening because it’s typically too heavy and can contain weeds and organisms that you don’t want growing in your containers.
The best soil I’ve found for container gardening is potting mix. Don’t confuse potting mix with potting soil because the potting soil is heavy too. A good potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro, is light enough to allow proper drainage and is excellent for container gardening vegetables.
Some people swear by what is called “soilless mixes,” but they are usually too light for containers and don’t really offer the roots the support they need. Plus, the soilless mixes don’t contain enough nutrients, so you’ll have to go heavier on the fertilizer.
If you plan on having several containers and find that buying the potting mix is too expensive, you can mix your own soil. Try a mix of one part garden loam, one part peat moss, and one part builder’s sand. Make sure to use a clean, course builder’s sand. You’ll also want to mix in a good, slow release fertilizer. Instructions for the ratio of fertilizer to soil can be found on the fertilizer label.
Selecting the right container or pot to use for growing vegetables can mean the difference between success or failure. Some plants have a larger root system while others have shallow roots. One rule of thumb is – bigger is always better.
People use just about anything for growing vegetables – from buckets to wooden boxes to plastic storage totes to plastic growing bags. Depending on what I’m growing, I usually choose a 5-gallon bucket or an 18-gallon plastic tote. Of course, vegetables with a really shallow root system – like lettuce – can be grown in a baking pan with a 2-inch depth.
Drainage is extremely important regardless of what type of container or pot you choose. In order for excess water to drain properly, your container or pot must have drainage holes either in the bottom or along the sides about one inch up from the bottom.
Color also matters because darker colors will absorb heat and if the soil gets too hot, it can damage your plant’s root system. Clear containers should not be used because soil is dark and will draw heat as well. Lighter colors such as white, gray, or light blue work better.
The size of your container will depend on the type of plant you’re growing. For tomato plants, I use an 18-gallon plastic tote because it give the roots plenty of room to spread out plus, the extra surface space allows for planting companion plants. I steer away from containers or pots that are breakable. They may look pretty, but I’d rather not have to deal with a crack or a break halfway through the growing season.
When most people think about a vegetable garden, they picture a large plot of land filled with different vegetable plants. If you have a large space and enjoy working in the garden – you know, pulling weeds and keeping animals and other little destroyers away from your plants – then a traditional garden is a good choice. Okay, I’m not knocking traditional gardens, but they are a lot more work than container gardens. So, if you have a lot of time on your hands and you’re able to do all the chores it takes to create a garden that will thrive, then by all means get down and dirty in the soil!
In my case, I had to come up with an alternative method to growing vegetables because my backyard – which is huge – is also full of rocks. My house is in a development that was built on the side of a mountain and not far beneath the soil lies rocks, rocks and more rocks.
One alternative for me was to build raised beds, which I actually tried at one time. I liked the raised beds for my strawberry patch, but that very first season I decided to grow my own vegetables, I went with the idea of container gardening instead. I was amazed at how many vegetables can actually be grown in containers, so I started out with three different varieties of tomato plants. One was a smaller variety that grew cherry tomatoes and the other two we larger varieties. All the plants did extremely well and the two larger ones grew to be huge and I ended up with more tomatoes than I could possibly eat!
The following year I did tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers in containers. And again, I had a fantastic growing season that produced plenty of vegetables. The thing that really got me hooked on container gardening was that it is easy and I can grow the plants right on my back deck. All I have to do is step outside my kitchen door and onto the deck and I’m in my garden!
When I grow vegetables in containers, I don’t have to spend time weeding and there’s less chance of animals invading my plants. Of course, my yard is fenced in and I do have dogs, so that helps to keep out invading critters! But the point is, with container gardening people who have limited space, crummy soil, or aren’t able to tend a traditional garden can still grow their own vegetables.
If you’re thinking about growing vegetables but can’t or don’t want to grow them in a traditional garden, give container gardening a try. You’ll be happy you did!