Gardening in Containers

Follow this guide for the selection of containers and learn how to make almost any container suitable for growing vegetables.
use casters under the largest containers

use casters under the largest containers

Figure F

Vegetables can be grown in containers in Zones 3-11.

Even if your gardening space is limited to container plants, you can still harvest fresh vegetables. Almost any vegetable you can grow in the ground, you can grow in a container.

Finding the Right Containers

Many kinds of containers can be used for growing vegetables. Because large decorative pots can get expensive, look for an economical alternative. Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started:

Restaurants are often glad to give you barrels and buckets that can be turned into planters.

Home stores also carry a huge assortment of inexpensive plastic buckets and containers to choose from. Heavy-duty rubber containers meant for storage are rugged and long lasting.

To make containers suitable for vegetable gardening, drill drainage holes in the bottom. For a 10- or 15-gallon container, use a 1"-diameter drill bit on a variable-speed drill to create five holes. Drill each hole using light pressure at a medium speed. For the smaller buckets, use a 1/2"-diameter drill bit and make three drainage holes per bucket. As a general rule, drill one drainage hole per one to two gallons of soil that a container will hold. Vegetables need adequate drainage to grow, so you're better off having more holes than you need than not enough.

When you arrange containers on your patio or deck, put the inexpensive ones at the back of the patio where they won't be seen. In the front, place an assortment of attractive pots and containers. Consider using a mix of plain and glazed terra-cotta pots.

Basic terra-cotta pots are fairly inexpensive and can be found in almost any shape and size. They have classic good looks and work well in almost any setting. The only downside to them is that they can crack in cold-weather climates when the porous clay absorbs water and then freezes.

To prevent cracking, you can water-seal the inside of a terra-cotta pot. Joe used a masonry waterproofing sealer and brushed it on the inside of the container. As soon as it dries, the pot will be waterproof. As an added bonus, water-sealed pots don't dry out as quickly as unsealed pots and will need to be watered less often.

Once the larger containers are filled with potting soil and have been watered, they will be heavy, probably 50 or 60 pounds or more. Since you want to be able to move them around, place a set of casters under each of the largest containers before you plant them. Those that won't be moved should be elevated from the patio with two or three bricks, to improve air circulation and drainage.

Planting, Watering, and Fertilzing

Purchase bags of high-quality all-purpose potting soil at your local garden center. Place a small square of 1/4" hardware cloth in the bottom of each pot to prevent the soil from spilling out, then fill each pot about halfway with soil. Sprinkle a small amount of slow-release fertilizer over the top, mix the fertilizer in and lightly press the soil down.

If you don't plan to put the containers on an automatic irrigation system, you might want to add hydrogels to the potting soil. Hydrogels are polymers that help soil retain moisture and thereby reduce your watering tasks. They are available at most gardening centers.

Bagged potting soil may seem costly, but it's worth the expense. It's especially designed to hold moisture around the roots of plants and to allow the roots to get the oxygen they need from the air. Don't be tempted to skimp and use soil dug from your garden. Garden soil doesn't drain properly in a pot and may have fungal and bacterial diseases that aren't present in sterile potting soil.

Finish filling the pots with more potting soil. Sprinkle another light dose of slow-release fertilizer on top, using half the amount recommended on the package, since you will be supplementing the slow-release fertilizer with frequent feedings of water-soluble fertilizer. Joe again mixed everything together with his hands and pressed it down lightly.

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