Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2004
Regional Report

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This wall of lettuce is made from a hanging container planted entirely with different varieties of lettuce.

Grow Vegetables in Containers

So often when we think of planting a container, flowers come to mind. But some of the most productive and beautiful container gardens are made of vegetables. Container gardening is fast becoming a good alternative for gardeners with limited space, and mail-order companies and garden centers are meeting the demand by offering supplies and plants specifically for containers.

In fact, many vegetables have been developed specifically for container culture. These are usually bush-type cultivars of vining vegetables, such as beans and cucumbers, or they have smaller fruit than the standard types, such as patio tomatoes and finger carrots.

Most every type of vegetable, however, can be grown in a container as long as some basics are followed in choosing a container and when caring for the plants. The most important criteria for containers are that they have adequate drainage and be of an appropriate size.

Choosing the Right Size Container
Here are some minimum sizes for containers for the following veggies:
Beets: 10 to 12 inches deep; beans: 8 to 10 inches deep; carrots: length of carrot plus 2 inches; cucumbers: 1 gallon per plant; eggplant: 12 to 14 inches of diameter per plant, 10 to 12 inches deep; peas: 8 to 10 inches deep; peppers: 1 gallon per plant; radishes: 6 inches deep; spinach: 8 to 10 inches deep; squash: 5 gallon for 3 to 4 plants; strawberries: 8 inches deep; tomatoes: 8- to 10-inch pot for miniatures, 1 gallon for dwarfs, 10 to 12 inches for hanging basket.

Tending Container Veggies
Many sources recommend using only sterile potting soil in containers, but combining one-third garden soil and two-thirds potting soil will give you a more manageable container. This mix will retain water better and keep the container heavy enough to avoid blowing over. Using only garden soil doesn't work as well because it is too heavy, and if it dries out, is very hard to wet down again.

Watering and fertilizing are much more critical in containers than with the in-ground garden because the roots are confined and everything the plants need must be supplied directly by you. Rainfall is often not adequate and must be supplemented, so you need to be prepared to water at least every other day, depending on the size of container. Mulching the top with shredded bark or other organic mulch helps retain some water.

Vegetables in containers need fertilizing about every couple of weeks with a dilute, liquid fertilizer when the plant is watered. Or, mix compost or a balanced granular fertilizer into the potting soil when planting.

Here are just a few samples of plant combinations to get you started thinking about your own combinations: Cucumbers on a trellis in a planter box with parsley and dwarf basil planted at the base; a window box filled with annual flowers, cascading oregano, and attractive small chili peppers; a hanging basket of cherry tomatoes planted with thyme, dwarf dill, and nasturtiums; a living screen of scarlet runner, yellow wax, and purple pod pole green beans on a trellis in a planter box.

Also, don't forget that strawberries and small fruits do well in containers. They will need to be treated as annuals since they won't overwinter successfully. But a hanging basket filled with cascading strawberries is a delectable treat for the eye and palate.

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