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Think inside box for veggie, herb container gardening

4/18/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Staff Writer

Collards, lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard and other greens do well in pots. They also can be mixed with flowers for an ornamental touch.
Photo courtesy of Bonnie Plants
Those who are thinking about vegetable and herb gardening but don’t have a yard, or who live in an urban area, can still grow their own vegetables and herbs in containers on a deck, patio or balcony, according to Bonnie Plants.

Plant breeders know that, after taste, home gardeners most want a high yield in a small space, so they’ve developed varieties that can grow in a small area and even flourish in containers, company officials note.

Bonnie Plants offers these steps to get started.

  1. Save time with transplants. When you’re ready to begin potting up vegetables and herbs, opt for transplants — seedlings that have already been started — rather than starting from seed. Transplants will buy you lots of time because they’re six weeks or older when you put them in the pot, and you’ll begin harvesting much sooner, too.
  2. Use a premium quality potting mix. Don’t skimp here. A quality mix holds moisture but drains well, giving plant roots the perfect balance of air, moisture and stability. Read bag labels to look for quality ingredients like aged (composted) bark, perlite, lime or dolomite, and sometimes moisture-holding crystals. Quality potting mix stays fluffy all season long. It does not contain actual dirt that would compact with frequent watering.
  3. Pick the right pot. It should be affordable to buy and fill, but large enough to accommodate plants as they mature. Almost anything can serve as a container — flowerpots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, washtubs, window planters and even large food cans. Larger vegetables, like tomatoes and eggplants, will need a larger container, at least 5 gallons for each plant. When in doubt, bigger is always better; the plants will look better and last longer because the roots will have more room to grow. Be sure the pot has a drainage hole in the bottom. And consider color: Dark-colored containers will absorb heat that could possibly damage the plant roots. If you must use dark-colored pots, try painting them a lighter color.
  4. Feed your plants. Even if your potting mix came with fertilizer already mixed in, you might need to feed your plants. Some potting mixes include just enough fertilizer to give plants a charge when they’re starting. Mixes designed to feed for several months run out sooner in hot weather with frequent watering. Add timed-release granules or try a soluble fertilizer.
  5. Put pots in a sunny spot. At least six to eight hours is best. The sun drives energy for production and for making sugars, acids and other compounds responsible for the fullest flavor. Make sure pots on a deck or porch get enough sunlight, and move them to a sunny spot if shade encroaches. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed.
  6. Water regularly. Vegetables are at least 90 percent water. To produce well, they might need daily watering in hot weather since you can’t always rely on rain. Water plants at soil level and be sure to water before the sun goes down. Leaves will need to dry before nightfall.

Look out for key words like bush, compact, patio, baby, dwarf and space-saver in plant names. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn’t mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.

Consider these additional container gardening tips:

  • Any herb does well in a pot.
  • Collards, lettuce, mustard, Swiss chard and other greens are perfect for pots. You can mix them with flowers for an ornamental touch. Lettuces yield a surprising amount. Pick only the outer leaves to keep the harvest going.
  • Eggplant and peppers of all types make pretty summer pots.
  • Varieties like Husky Cherry Red, Patio, Bush Early Girl, Bush Goliath and Better Bush are especially easy to manage in containers.
  • Squash and zucchini work in large pots such as half barrels.

For more information on growing vegetables and herbs in containers, visit www.bonnieplants.com.

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