Container gardening is more popular than ever. Edibles can be grown in containers in a variety of outdoor spaces. Regardless of the scope or size of your container garden, selecting the right containers, planting media, and plant combinations are the first steps on the road to success.
There are many different types of containers that you can purchase, build or recycle. Wood, clay, and unglazed ceramic containers will lose moisture more quickly and will therefore require more frequent watering. Plastic and wood containers can safely remain outside year round, and cedar and redwood containers will last around 10 years without staining or painting. The key is to select a container that will provide adequate space for roots and match the plant’s growth requirements.
Container planting media can be bought or you can make it yourself. The planting media is the key to your success. Garden soil should not be used because some soils do not drain well, which limits the plant’s roots access to air. In addition, garden soils may contain many pests, such as weed seed, disease, or insects. If you would like to make your own soil mix the following is a good recipe: one part compost, one part perlite or vermiculite, and one part potting soil.
Selecting the right plants for the container will be critical for your success with container gardens. All plants that are placed in the same container must have similar requirements for light, water, and nutrients. Most warm season vegetables and fruits do best in full sun with at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Most herbs and cool season vegetables such as beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, radishes, and spinach tolerate partial shade and need only three to five hours of direct sun a day.
When watering, apply directly to the soil to avoid splashing of soil onto the leaves, which can spread diseases. The majority of vegetables require a moderate amount of fertilization, but cucumbers, squash and tomatoes are heavy feeders that require more potassium. You can use a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 that can be purchased as a granular or liquid product. Many of your liquid fertilizers have higher levels of potassium, which is good for many of your fruiting vegetables. Herbs can tolerate more shade and prefer less fertilizer.
There are many variables that need to be considered when mixing vegetables, fruits, and herbs in pots: harvesting time, growth habit, texture, size, color and end use.
For more information about container gardening, or if you have other gardening questions, feel free to contact the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office at 919-496-3344, or visit our website at franklin.ces.ncsu.edu.