Container Vegetable Gardening--
Patio Container Gardening

Container vegetable gardening is a great alternative for those with less space available. It makes it possible for vitually anyone to have at least a few tomato plants and herbs for cooking. Garden vegetables are less fussy than many exotic flowers or decorative plants.

If you have a patio for container gardening, or a balcony, you can grow vegetables. Even indoor container gardening in a sunny window that can have a table in front of it for the plants, makes it possible to grow at least a few vegetables and herbs.

Light coming from the east, or morning light, is usually best. If you are in an area that is rainy and overcast much of the time, then afternoon or all day light may be more effective. For the indoor gardener, a south facing window that gets lots of light is best. If you don't have enough natural light from your best lit window, you will have to supplement with an indoor grow light.

Indoor gardeners should consider lettuce, green onions, garlic, radishes, peppers, herbs, and if there is a lot of light, a cherry or patio tomato.

There are some factors to consider when container vegetable gardening that are not as much of an issue with other types of gardens. You generally should avoid outdoor soil for use in containers. First, it is often full of weed seeds. Second, it could bring a plant disease or insects with it. Third, and most important, is that is is going to be too dense for use in containers.

Soil for Container Gardening

The trick with container plants is to have very loose soil with good drainage. Most soil from the ground is too heavy for a container because the water can't get out fast enough, and it drowns the roots. Drowned roots not only don't pick up nutrients very well, they begin to rot, and the plant dies.

The roots of the plant need to be able to get air and water. In a container, the water sits in the bottom layer and if there is poor drainage, the layer gets higher and higher until it is pooled around the roots, and then the roots rot. You have to have good drainage holes in the bottom, plus loose soil that won't compact too much.

How do you know you have the right mix and texture? Let's say you took a handful of the dirt and squeezed it. If it forms a solid lump, it's too heavy. If it won't even hold together, then it's either too light or too dry. It should just barely stay in a clump, but pushing on it lightly with one finger can make it fall apart. You can add vermiculite and/or perlite, or 1/4 inch pine bark chunks to give it air spaces.

A good mix of these items would be:

  • 2 parts potting soil
  • 1 part spaghnum peat (leave out if water is highly acidic or add dolomite lime)
  • 2 parts perlite or horticultural vermiculite
  • 2 parts pine bark 1/8-1/4 inch size (optional, but good for long term or woody plantings)

Watering Your Container Vegetable Garden

In the Southwest, the soil is alkaline, but in the Eastern U.S. it's usually acid.

container growing collard greens

You want soil that is slightly acid for best results. Soil that is too alkaline, and water also, locks up the nutrients in the soil and the plants can't get at them. Potting soil is already made to be neutral to slightly acid.

If your water is very alkaline, then add 1/2 tsp of cider vinegar to a gallon jug of tap water, and let it stand uncovered for a coulple of hours before using. This will give time for the water's ph to shift, and the chlorine in the tap water to dissipate. Use this whenever you water in an alkaline water area.

For those with neutral to acidic ph tap water, you can just let the water stand uncovered to allow the chlorine to dissipate. It also allows the water to come to room temperature so that it won't "shock" your plants.

Containers for Container Gardening

If you are starting with seeds or very young plants, you need to use a smaller pot. This is again because of the water. Too large of a pot will retain more water than the tiny roots of these young seedlings can handle. When they have at least 8-12 leaves, then you can move them up to a medium pot, as long as it has good drainage.

Many potting soil mixes are sold with a gradual release fertizer already mixed in. These are great for smaller plants. With larger plants like tomatoes, you might want to add a little extra fertilizer before and during blooming.

Once the fruit is set you can cut back to only fertilizing perhaps once a month. Use the fertilizer(like Miracle Grow) at 1/4 strength for container vegetable gardens.

So the first thing you need is good soil. The drainage holes need to be big enough or have enough holes so that the water can drain out within an hour or two. The next thing is 6-10 hours minium of sunshine per day. If those things are right, you can grow most anything with a little fertilizer.

The idea when you water a plant is to keep the soil evenly moist, not wet. Before watering, stick your finger into the soil at least an inch deep. If is is moist an inch down, then wait a couple of days before watering.

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