Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
December, 2005
Regional Report

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Containers are a versatile way to grow a salad garden, while adding cool-season beauty to your home and landscape.

Cool-Season Salads in Containers

Containers offer a great way to keep growing fresh vegetables through the winter season. Containers are attractive and easy to care for, and you can grow some great vegetables in a very small space. They offer versatility and add a unique look to an otherwise boring porch, driveway, or balcony.

Salad greens are well suited to container growing. Most are very small-statured plants and as such they can be grown in smaller containers if need be. I would not go smaller than about 2 gallons. The larger the soil volume, the less often you'll have to water and fertilize. I do most of my cool-season container growing in pots of about 4 to 5 gallons in volume.

Container Choices
Large containers work well. In a large container, such as a half whiskey barrel, you can plant a variety of different salad greens or even include some other vegetables in the mix. Rolling casters provide a great way to keep these large, heavy containers mobile. A neighbor of mine has his containers on rollers, making the trip into the garage and back outside onto the sunny driveway much easier.

There are many types of containers, including traditional terra cotta, plastic, and concrete. Each has its own pro's and con's. For winter growing, I prefer the new lightweight containers made from polyurethane that offer the look of terra cotta, cement, or stone in a container that is 80 to 90 percent lighter than the real thing. Check to see if they have drainage holes. Some types don't come with holes and it is up to you to drill them. Without holes, the containers won't drain and plants will drown and die.

A wheelbarrow filled with potting mix makes a great cool-season salad container. As long as an item has drainage holes (and your spouse agrees to having it sit out in the front yard), it has potential to become a salad garden!

You can grow most any of our cool-season vegetables in a container. I enjoy planting a mix of leaf lettuces in a wide container so it can be harvested with scissors, rather like mowing yourself a salad. Many of our new salad vegetables are especially willing to double as ornamentals. Spinach provides dark green color, while oriental vegetables like various Choi's, with their prominent white leaf stalks, add a variety of textures, colors, and flavors to the mix.

'Bright Lights' chard puts on quite a show, with glowing stalks of yellow, coral, pink, and red. Rhubarb chard's red stalks are also a really attractive centerpiece in a container. Though not usually considered salad greens, the cole crops, such as broccoli, kohlrabi, and kale, have a place in the salad container garden. Just make sure to give them plenty of room or they'll take over the container. Some types, such as the dark purple/burgundy 'Red Russian' and 'Redbor' kale, can be really beautiful in a mixed planting.

Sometime I'll include a few edible flowers, such as pansies, violas, or calendulas, in a bowl of lettuce for extra color and to garnish the salad. Shallots or scallions deserve their place in the planting, too. Include a few green onions or chives to season the harvest.

Mesclun mixes are popular with some gardeners. I find that these mixed plantings don't tend to germinate or grow at the same rate. So I plant them as transplants or in separate containers so I can harvest and mix to my own tastes when I make a salad. A few such greens that I like to include are arugula (also rocket or roquette), corn salad, sorrel, and cress.

So don't let winter shut down your gardening opportunities. Grab some containers and potting mix and start a salad garden that will keep you in fresh veggies all winter long.

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