The Q&A Archives: Patio Container Gardening

Question: I would like to know what fruit & veggies are easy to grow in pots on a patio.

Answer: The main consideration when gardening in containers is good drainage from the pots, and good soil in the pots. Use a commercial potting soil rather than regular garden soil to fill your containers. Use pots large enough to accommodate the root mass of the plant you intend to grow. To keep mature plants from toppling over, the pot should be about 1/3 as deep as the plant is high. A five-gallon container is just about right for a full grown tomato plant; smaller containers will support 'patio' or 'cherry' sized tomato plants. Your containerized garden will rely upon you to provide adequate moisture and nutrition. Plan to water daily in hot weather, less if the weather is cool. Use a diluted liquid fertilizer about every third time you water, to provide a constant supply of nutrients to the roots of your plants. It's wise to flush the salts out of the containers every month or so to prevent a build up and subsequent burning of roots and leaves.

Some keys to successful container gardening are:

1. Use large containers--small containers dry out quickly. Be sure the containers have drainage holes.
2. Use a commercial potting mix, preferably one containing some vermiculite or perlite to keep it light.
3. Choose compact varieties, such as bush beans or cukes, or determinate tomatoes. (Or you'll need to rig up a system so vines can climb.)
4. Be diligent about watering; keep soil moist but not soggy. Also, be sure to feed regularly with a balanced fertilizer. (If possible, use some compost in the mix at planting time.)
5. Be sure to place the containers in a place that receives adequate sun. Most garden vegetables need full sun.
6. For your first season, choose reliable, durable varieties. Lettuce, bush beans, bush zucchini, cucumbers, determinate tomatoes, and marigolds would be good choices.

Here are some good books on container gardening: "Window Boxes: How to Plant and Maintain Beautiful Compact Flower Beds", by Tovah Martin, "The Creative Container Gardener", by Elaine Stevens, "Movable Harvests", by Chuck & Barbara Crandall. Here are a few titles for children: "Big Bugs" by Jerry Booth (lots of fun garden activities, i.e.,worm races, butterfly hibernation station, etc.), "Growing Wild: Inviting Wildlife into Your Yard" by Constance Perenyi, "Talking to Fireflies & Shrinking the Moon" by Edward Duensing.

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