Gardening in a container is much like gardening in the ground; think of it as simply using a smaller “plot.” No need for a large yard to enjoy your own garden of edible delights.
Use space on your deck, patio, or windowsill for pots of vegetables and herbs. Start a garden in a pot anytime during the gardening season from early spring (cool weather crops, such as peas and lettuce) to late spring (warm-weather vegetables and herbs, such as beans, tomatoes and basil) through midsummer (peas and lettuce for fall harvests).
From the Bottom Up
Drainage is essential when you garden in containers. Few conditions will harm plants faster than soggy soil. Select pots with holes in the bottom or sides, so excess water can escape. If a pot lacks holes, drill three or four in the bottom. Raise containers without saucers off the surface of a deck of patio. Make sure to empty water from the saucers.
Choose large pots, such as 12- to 24-inch-diameter planters, and deep window boxes to provide sufficient space for plants’ roots and to cut down on watering. The soil in large planters dries more slowly in hot weather. The soil in small containers can lose moisture so quickly in the heat of summer you need to water daily, sometimes twice a day.
Use a potting mix that drains well. You may want to add water-holding polymer crystals to the soil before planting. The polymers absorb moisture and release it as the soil dries.
Many vegetables and some herbs, such as carrots, peas, radishes, cilantro, and dill, grow best when you start them from seeds you sow directly in the container, but you can also purchase bedding plants at a garden center.
When you combine bedding plants and seeds, set the plants in the container first; then sow seeds around the edge or in empty spaces among the plants. When seedlings appear, thin if necessary to the correct spacing for mature plants. Provide support for vining plants. Spread a 2-inch-deep layer of mulch on the top to conserve moisture, after germination if you start with seeds.
Water planters as needed, which may mean daily in summer. To test soil for dryness, poke your finger into the soil; if it feels dry to a depth of two inches, add water. Save time and effort by hooking up a drip irrigation system designed for containers. Fertilize every two to three weeks, unless you added a time-release plant food to the soil.
Near the end of the season, protect your pots from frosty nights by covering them with burlap or light blankets. Most vegetables slow their growth and fruit production as the heat and duration of sunlight subside going into fall.
Source: National Gardening Bureau/Eleanore Lewis