Even if you don't have enough space for a regular garden, you can still enjoy growing and harvesting fresh vegetables by growing crops in containers. In these articles we cover the essential steps you'll need to take to get a great harvest from plants grown in pots, window boxes, sacks and other containers
Most vegetable plants like full sun, so it's important to place the container where it will receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. A south or west facing location is best.
Choose a sheltered spot for your pot so your plants are protected from cold, dry winds. If you're using windowsills and balconies, make sure your pots are properly secured to keep them from being blown away by the wind.
Choose the Best Container
Containers come in all shapes, sizes, colors and materials. Plastic and wood are tried and true materials, but you can get creative with recycled containers—just make sure they're clean and don't leach harmful chemicals. Also make sure the container you choose is large and heavy enough to hold a fully grown plant.
Good drainage must be provided to avoid waterlogging. Check that there are adequate drain holes and that they are not dirt or clogged.
Fill the container with purchased potting soil or your own homemade compost. Do not use garden soil, as this can be heavy and contain weeds or other soil-borne pests. Lightweight and hydrating blends are best for containers that need to be replenished each season to replenish the nutrients that have been depleted.
The Best Soil for Container Gardening
In order to grow healthy plants, you need healthy soil. Plants in containers require the best possible nutrients, aeration, and drainage for healthy root growth and a good harvest.
Do not use garden soil! Most garden soils are too heavy, waterlogging and compacting easily, and harboring pests and diseases. Instead, use a "soilless" potting mix specially formulated for containers. It will drain quickly and be lightweight, and it should not contain any diseases or pests.
How to Water a Container
Because they are more exposed to sunlight and wind, containers dry out more easily than traditional gardens or raised beds. Especially during the hottest days of summer, many potted plants must be watered twice a day!
Containers can be watered in a number of ways—hose, watering can, drip irrigation. Choose a method that works best for you and the size of your garden.
A few key points about watering:
Water in the morning (or as early as possible). Ideally, container plants should be watered as early as possible. Watering early in the morning will provide enough moisture to the plants to get them through the midday heat. It also ensures that their leaves dry out as night falls; moisture on leaves at night promotes the spread of disease.
deep water. Plant roots need moisture, so just spraying the soil surface with a hose is not enough. Water plants—especially those in containers—deeply and thoroughly to ensure water reaches deep to the roots. After watering, the soil should be saturated and water should drain from the bottom of the pot. Alternatively, try watering from the bottom: Place a tray under the pot and fill it with water. The soil will absorb water through the drainage holes. Repeat until no more water is absorbed, then pour off excess water from the tray.
Don't water too often! It might sound counterintuitive, but watering your plants a little too often is worse than watering a lot infrequently. Frequent shallow watering encourages plants to develop fragile shallow roots, while infrequent deep watering encourages them to take deeper, healthier roots. Most plants can tolerate -- and actually benefit from -- taking breaks between deep waterings, so don't be afraid to let the soil dry out a little between waterings.
Other key things to keep in mind are pot size and weather. Smaller pots dry out faster than larger pots and require more frequent watering. Hot, sunny days are naturally drier than cooler, cloudy days, so expect to water more during heat waves. Overall, pay attention to how quickly the container soil dries out and how the plants respond; you'll quickly learn how often you need to water!
One way to keep potted plants cool and moist enough during the hot summer months is to put them in double pots: place a small pot in a large pot, and fill between them with peat moss or crumpled newspaper space between. When watering the plants, also soak the filler between the pots. NOTE: Be sure to check your double potted plants frequently, as the extra layer can also be a good hiding place for pests!
Water flows quickly through the container, carrying nutrients away. This can be a good thing, as it will wash away any salt that has accumulated in the soil. However, this also means that it is necessary to supplement these nutrients by feeding container plants more regularly than plants grown in the ground.
In general, we recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer to the potting mix at the beginning of the gardening season. This can be done by mixing it into the potting mix at planting, or by sprinkling fertilizer (ie, "top dressing") over the potting mix immediately after planting. This will give your plants a head start in terms of growth.
While they are actively growing, flowering, and fruiting, fertilize potted plants at least twice a month with a liquid fertilizer, following label directions. It's always a good idea to test your soil first, if possible, to see if additional fertilizer is needed. Occasional use of fish milk or compost will also add micronutrients to container soil.
To keep vegetable plants growing, feed them organic soil amendments such as liquid seaweed, fish milk, or fecal tea.
Top 2 Edible Plants for Containers
Salad leaves only need a shallow container a few inches deep. If you live in an area with hot summers, choose an area with full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon to avoid plants "bolting" or running off to seed before they're ready to harvest. By picking off only a few outer leaves at a time, you can harvest split salad leaves in weeks, perfect for summer salads.
Tomatoes need ample soil to provide adequate nutrients before harvest. Many varieties, such as Tumbling Tom, can be grown in hanging baskets and look great when dragged on the floor. Other varieties can be grown in bags of potting soil, or you can use large pots at least 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. Make sure to use stakes and tie the plants to them to keep them upright. Tomatoes are very thirsty and therefore need plenty of water -- at least twice a day in hot weather.