Don’t want to dig up your yard? Try container gardening

Our world has changed significantly in the last few months and it is hard to imagine when we will get back to normal or even what normal will be in the future. Working and learning from home, limited social activities, online shopping, takeout meals, social distancing, economic and food insecurity are most likely to be part of our new normal for the next few months. All of this can be very stressful and I for one find solace in the natural world; walking in parks and on trails, sitting outside reading, and most importantly spending time in my garden. You also may find refuge turning the soil and can at the same time relieve some food insecurity by planting vegetables.

    We talked last month about Victory Gardens. Most people may think of a Victory Garden as a large plot of land with a variety and abundance of vegetables, but you can also produce your own Victory Garden by growing vegetables in containers. Growing in containers is a little different than growing directly in the ground, so here are a few tips to help you be successful.

  First look for a spot on the patio or in the yard that gets eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Vegetables require a lot of sun. While they can survive in less than eight full hours of sunlight, their growth will be slower and they will yield less produce. If you are OK with that just choose your sunniest spot; or if you are able put your containers on some sort of dolly or cart so that you can move them around into the sun each day. 

  You can grow a wide variety of vegetables in containers: cucumbers, beans, squash, carrots and radishes, as well as the traditional tomatoes and peppers. You can even grow potatoes in a burlap bag filled with soil! You want to choose vegetables that are most suited for containers. Choose plant varieties that are ‘bush-like’ rather than climbing plants. And make sure you use a large enough container. Here are some suggestions for container sizes and varieties that would work best in them. [i]

  •  1/2 gallon container
    • Most herbs will do well in this size container – 1 plant per container
  • 1 gallon container
    • Cucumbers: Spacemaster, Salad Bush,  Bush Champion – 1-2 plants per container
    • Green Beans: Top Crop, Derby, Tender Crop –  2-3 plants per container
    • Cherry or Patio Tomatoes: Pixie (Cherry), Patio – one plant per container
  • 2 gallon container
    • Peppers: Lady Bell, New Ace, Gypsy – 1 plant per container
    • Carrots : Little Finger –seed thinned to 2-3 inches apart
    • Radishes:  Early Scarlet Globe, Champion – seed thinned to 1-2 inches apart
  • 3 gallon container
    • Tomatoes: Super bush, Celebrity, Jetstar – 1 plant per container

Tomatoes should be of a determinate variety rather than an indeterminate variety. Determinate tomatoes stay bush-like and the fruits ripen all at once, while indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and producing fruit all season long. If you prefer an indeterminate variety you should be prepared to stake them through the season.

  Use containers with holes in the bottom for drainage or drill your own holes in the container. Roots that are saturated can stress plants over time or even kill them because the plants are unable to draw nutrients from the soil. Likewise rather than taking soil directly from your garden, I recommend that you use a potting soil mix because it will provide better drainage. In addition potting soil is lighter and disease and weed-seed free, unlike most garden soil. If you prefer not to purchase potting mix you can make your own by mixing a 1-2 or 1-3 ratio of garden soil with an amendment like vermiculite or peat moss.

  Check your containers daily for watering. Container grown plants require more frequent watering — plants grown in the ground draw moisture from surrounding soil. Stick your finger into the container and if the soil is dry 1” from the surface it should be watered. Water only until the water accumulates on the top of the soil and wait for it to sink in. Water should drain from the bottom of the container. If it does not then the container needs a little bit more water. If a pot dries out very quickly and the plant has stunted growth, discolored leaves or a lack of productivity it may mean that your container is too small. Transplant it to a larger pot.

  I hope you will try your hand at one or a few vegetables this summer and find solace in the soil like I do.

[i] This info is from the University of Illinois Extension Service