Tips for Container Gardening
In recent years, as the popularity of container gardening has increased, breeders have developed an increasing number of compact and dwarf vegetable varieties intended to do well in pots and small growing spaces. A few of these varieties include:
- Eggplant: Fairy Tale and Patio Baby
- Kale: Red Russian and Simply Salad Kale Storm
- Lettuce: all varieties and our Simply Salad City Garden Mix
- Pepper: Candy Cane Chocolate Cherry and Hungarian Cheese Mix
- Strawberry, Summer Breeze Cherry
- Swiss Chard: Bright Lights
- Tomato: Patio, Fantastico and Heartbreaker® Vallery
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 gardening, whether you’re growing herbs or vegetables.
Bigger is better
The greatest challenge of container herb and vegetable growing is watering, since the soil will dry out faster in pots than in the ground. However, a larger volume of soil won’t dry out as fast, so choose the biggest pot you can. Make certain that the container you choose has holes in the bottom so excess water can drain away from the soil. Also put a light layer of small rocks 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 the 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
Herbs are easy to grow, especially if you begin with Sweet Valley transplants, and they will add a fresh homegrown 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 drier soil and fewer nutrients, whereas basil may need more fertilizer and water than rosemary.
With pots, you may be able to finesse a sun shortage. Place a wheeled pot trolley (available in garden centres) under a large pot and move it to follow the sun. For example, move it into the sun in the morning, and in the evening when you want to sit on the patio, scoot it out of the way.
Baby greens such as lettuce and spinach are perhaps the simplest vegetables to grow. You can start a salad greens garden beginning in the spring when they will tolerate cool temperatures. Pick up some Sweet Valley lettuce, kale or a simply salad blend and transplant them into a nicer patio pot. Place it out of the 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 growing them in 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!) You will need a large container (preferably not clay). Self-watering containers are a smart choice because they even out the water and fertilizer supply which helps prevent the fruit from cracking. Even with a self-watering planter, you will still need to water frequently in the summer. Tomatoes sprawl and the fruits get heavy, so provide a cage for all but the most dwarf 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! When you start to get the hang of it, try combination containers with vegetables and herbs that have compatible habits. This is a great way to add colour and interest to your patio garden!