Pot Up Your Plants

Solve Space Restrictions with Container Gardening

Limited yard space? Get creative with pots, boxes, tubs, and bags. Adobe Stock Photo By Maksim Shebeko

Don’t let a lack of yard space keep you from gardening this spring and summer. Many vegetables grow well in containers on a patio, porch, balcony, or windowsill.

Limited garden space precludes being able to grow some larger vegetables, according to Brooke Edmunds, Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist. For instance, growing corn on a balcony may not be practical. But a variety of crops can be planted in containers, including lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans, squash, radishes, kale, and spinach.

Some dwarf and miniature varieties, such as Thumbelina carrots or other baby vegetables, work particularly well in small confines. Vine crops can be put in hanging baskets or grown in oak barrels or large pots and trained vertically on trellises, stakes, or railings.

The amount of sunlight available is a consideration when choosing crops. Root and leaf crops—such as beets, lettuce, cabbage, and mustard greens—can tolerate light shade. But vegetables grown for their fruits, including tomatoes, green beans, and peppers, must have 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. The more sun the better.

Almost any type of container can be used, from traditional pots to bushel baskets, metal drums, gallon cans, fabric grow bags, plastic tubs, and wooden boxes. 10-inch pots are good for green onions, parsley and herbs. 5-gallon containers are best for plants with larger root systems, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

No matter what container is used, adequate drainage is necessary. Drill drain holes along the side about a half-inch from the bottom and make sure the soil drains well. Elevate the pot off the surface of your patio or pot saucer with bricks or boards.

Use packaged potting soil or composted soil from a local garden center. These potting soils make for excellent container gardening because they are lightweight, sterile, and drain well. Avoid topsoil, garden soil, and planting mix, which can be heavy and drain poorly.

As in bigger gardens, container-grown vegetables can be grown from transplants or planted as seeds. Moisten the soil by adding water and mixing with your hands or small trowel. Smooth out the soil surface, then plant vegetable seeds according to the instructions on the seed package. After planting, gently water the soil, taking care not to wash out the seeds.

Vegetables grown in containers need regular fertilization. A soluble, all-purpose fertilizer mixed in water is the easiest type to use with container plants.

Fertilize every 3 to 4 days with a solution half the strength of the recommended mixing ratio.

Dry fertilizers sprinkled on top of the soil offer the second-best alternative. If you use them, fertilize every 3 weeks.

Organic materials, including compost, animal manures, blood meal or rock phosphate, and greensand, can also be used for fertilizer.

Regular watering is essential. The soil in containers can dry out quickly, especially on a concrete patio in full sun. Daily watering is not unusual, but don’t let the soil become soggy or have standing water on top. Water when the soil feels dry until it runs out of the drain holes.

After harvesting spring and early summer crops, the containers can be replanted with late summer and fall vegetables.
For more information on container gardening and other gardening basics, visit the OSU Extension’s publication Growing Your Own Website.