Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2008
Regional Report

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Even an old tire planter makes a good container for small-statured vegetables such as these lettuce plants.

Growing Vegetables In Small Spaces

Vegetables love good soil and plenty of sunlight. Yet many would-be gardeners are apartment or condo dwellers, while others live in cramped lots or in older neighborhoods where towering trees steal the sun from their potential garden plots. Containers provide gardeners who have limited space a chance to garden, to turn that porch, patio, balcony, or driveway into a productive garden spot.

Container Type and Size
There are many wonderful containers available today. Options include terra cotta, plastic, metal, polycarbonate, and hypertufa containers (made from a mix of concrete and peat moss). It is important to select containers of adequate size for the plants you wish to grow. Small, shallow-rooted veggies like lettuce, radishes, kohlrabi, chard, and spinach will do fine in a container as small as 2 gallons. Larger plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and vining veggies need a minimum size of 5 gallons for healthy growth. Larger is even better, allowing a grouping of plants. Half whiskey barrels and large terra cotta planters are great for this purpose.

Containers should provide adequate bottom drainage. Most containers come with holes in the bottom, but if they don't, drill holes to provide drainage before planting.

Growing Mix for Containers
Garden soil is not the best choice for container growing. A potting mix (artificial "soil" mix) of ingredients such as compost, peat, sand, vermiculite, and perlite usually encourages the best results. These mixes provide the characteristics needed in a growing mix: good aeration and drainage, as well as good water- and nutrient-holding capacity.

Caring for Container Veggies
Container mixes dry out quickly so you'll need to water your container plants more frequently than plants growing in the ground. They may need daily watering or even twice daily if the weather is hot, the location sunny, or if the plant is a bit large for the container. Fertilize plants weekly with a liquid fertilizer mixed at the low label rate.

Vertical Gardens
Another technique for growing more in less space is to grow vining vegetables on a trellis. Cucumbers, melons, squash, and vining tomatoes can be trained up a trellis where they take up very little garden space. A porch or balcony post can be turned into a column of cukes or cherry tomatoes. Just set a large planting container at the base and tie the vines to the post as they grow. Plant another container with sweet potatoes and allow the trailing vines to dangle over a balcony.

Attach a lattice panel to a western rock or brick wall and cover it with cucumber vines to provide productive shade from the hot afternoon sun. Large-fruited veggies like melons and winter squashes need support. A section of hosiery or mesh fabric makes an excellent sling for supporting the fruit. Garden centers sell attractive pot hangers from which a terra cotta pot can be hung from a post, wall, or fence. These can be used to create a multi-tiered garden of radishes, chard, kohlrabi, lettuce, or other small greens.

Keep in mind that sun exposure is important for good vegetable production. Locate your containers or trellises where the foliage will receive good sunlight, but without shading other areas of the garden.

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