Gardening without the garden
Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of biweekly columns from the Becker County Master Gardeners, who are part of the University of Minnesota Extension.
No room for a traditional garden? Too much work for what time and energy you have? Want a few vegetables to enjoy without the weeding and harvesting exhaustion?
Container gardening just might be the answer you are looking for!
For beginners, starting small can give you an opportunity to taste fresh produce and lead you to a yearning for a larger gardening adventure next year.
With a few adequately sized pots, potting soil, fertilizer, seeds or purchased transplants, water and a sunny location, you can soon be on your way to a summer of edible joy!
Bigger is better when choosing containers so plant roots have plenty of room to spread. Larger plants require larger pots. A tomato requires a three to five gallon (10-12 inches in diameter) pot, whereas a two gallon (8.5 inch) pot for lettuce or spinach is large enough. The smaller the pot the faster they can dry out so bigger is best.
Potting soil is ideal for growing your vegetables. Do not use garden soil as it is usually too heavy to successfully grow vegetables in pots. Unless stated on the bag, most potting soils do not contain added fertilizer. Mixing a few tablespoons of slow release fertilizer into the potting soil at the time of planting is a good idea.
Seeds or Transplants
Radishes, spinach, lettuce and green onions grow easily from seed. Be sure to thin them as recommended on the seed package. Tomato and pepper transplants purchased at a greenhouse will likely lead to better results for a beginner than trying to start those types of plants from seed. For tomatoes, determinant varieties are best for pots because they grow to a smaller size than indeterminants. Ask your greenhouse staff for help. Both tomatoes and peppers do best when they are planted one plant to a pot. Do not crowd. Greenhouse grown seedlings will usually have strong stems and after hardening them off (gradually introducing seedlings to the outdoor conditions), they are eager to grow with little transplant shock. Pinching off early flower buds allows your seedlings time to get established before trying to divert energy to fruit before they are able to healthily do so.
After planting, keep your seeds or transplants well watered. Do not overwater but be aware that as your plants get larger, they will require daily watering. You can easily test your soil moisture using a hand-held moisture meter or simply stick your index finger into the soil. If the soil feels dry beyond the top two inches, it is time to water. Water enough so it starts draining out the bottom holes. Adding mulch, such as herbicide-free grass clippings, to the top of the soil can decrease the need to water as often. You will also need to fertilize lightly every couple of weeks when the plants are vigorously growing and fruiting. Not only does plant growth deplete nutrients, but the frequent watering required will wash nutrients out as well.
Vegetable plants need plenty of sun; at least 6 hours a day. A southern or eastern exposure works very well. Utilizing pots makes moving plants to sunny areas possible to increase light exposure as the day progresses if necessary.
Other vegetables, beyond those mentioned here, can be grown in containers. Numerous sources exist on the internet and through the University of Minnesota Extension offices. With a little practice and enthusiasm you can successfully grow vegetables right on your deck or patio. Add in a few blooming flower pots too. You will create an outdoor living space that is both functional and beautiful!
Sources for this article:
- Beaufeaux, T. “Container Gardening 101,” University of Minnesota Extension. Accessed at: local.extension.umn.edu/local/wright/master-gardeners/article/container-gardening-101#.XtFwqvV9758.email
- Meyer, M. (2019). "Become a Smarter Gardener in 2019: Get the Right Container for Your Veggies!" Accessed at: blog-yard-garden-news.extension.umn.edu/2019/05/become-smarter-gardener-in-2019-get.html
- Klodd, A. and Hoidal, N. (2020). Big Ideas for Small Spaces: Tips for Successful Container Vegetables. Accessed at: blog-yard-garden-news.extension.umn.edu/2020/02/tips-for-successful-container-vegetables.html