No place to dig a garden? You can still grow your own food!

Garden planter filled with flowers and tomatoes, in a backyard setting.

It’s easy to grow a satisfying amount of many edibles, (especially herbs and salad greens), in containers on a patio, deck, porch or balcony. Even tomatoes and peppers can easily be grown in containers!

In recent years, as container gardening has grown, growers have developed an increasing number of compact and dwarf varieties intended to do well in pots. There are several varieties of tomatoes that will grow well this way…Tiny Tim, Red Robin, Sweet ‘n’ Neat, Tumbling Tiger and Rambling Red and Rambling Gold stripe.

Different vegetables need different conditions, even in pots. But containers make it easier to control the soil, light, water, and fertilizer.

Here are some tips for getting started with container herb & vegetable gardening:

Bigger is better

The greatest challenge of container herb & veggie growing is watering, since soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground. A larger volume of soil won’t dry out as fast, so choose the biggest pot you can. It’s fine to mix compatible plants in a single large pot. Make certain that any container has holes so excess water can drain away from the soil.  Also put a light layer of small rock at the base of the pot to allow for better drainage.

Plan for watering

So-called “self-watering” containers have a reservoir beneath the soil topped with a grid through which the roots can reach down to the water. With these containers you won’t have to water as often, but you still have to keep that reservoir filled. And in the hot summer, mature plants will empty that reservoir fast, so you may have to fill it daily. Spread mulch over the soil in pots just as you would in a garden, to keep moisture from evaporating.

Start with herbs

They are easy, especially if you begin with Sweet Valley transplants, and will add a fresh-grown taste to almost any meal. Just remember to give them the conditions they prefer. All herbs need full sun, but some, such as rosemary, prefer dryer soil and fewer nutrients; basil may need more fertilizer and water than rosemary.

Move it

With pots, you may be able to finesse a sun shortage. Place a wheeled pot trolley (available in garden centers) under a large pot and move it to follow the sun. For example, move it into the sun in the morning; in the evening, when you want to sit on the patio, scoot it out of the way.

Green up

Baby greens, such as lettuce and spinach, are perhaps the simplest vegetables to grow, beginning in spring when they will tolerate cool temperatures. Pick up a Sweet Valley “Simply Salad” pot. Transplant into a nicer patio pot and place out of direct hot sun.  Lettuce prefers a subtle sun and cooler temperatures.  Once grown up to salad size, use scissors to snip off only the largest leaves and you can keep your harvest going for several weeks.

Accept the challenge

Everybody loves tomatoes, but they take some work. For pots, seek out dwarf varieties that are “determinate”–meaning they will grow to a certain size, then stop and bear all their fruit in a few weeks. Choose cherry tomatoes or those with fruit no more than two inches across, Sweet Valley transplants will work best! ­čÖé You will need a large container (preferably not clay). Self-watering containers are wise because they even out the water and fertilizer supply and deter cracking, but you still will need to water frequently in summer. Tomatoes sprawl and the fruits get heavy, so provide a cage for all but the most dwarf determinate tomato varieties. Or install sturdy stakes when you plant and be attentive to tying new shoots to the stakes.

Most importantly have fun with your patio garden! You may not catch on right away but don’t give up.Growing your own food can be a rewarding experience and will make you want to grow more! (The addiction of gardening!) If you have questions or need some advice feel free to ask our grower!

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