Magazine article Sunset

Can You Grow Vegetables in Pots? Yes, It

Magazine article Sunset

Can You Grow Vegetables in Pots? Yes, It

Article excerpt

Can you grow vegetables in pots? Yes, if . . .

It's possible to grow almost any vegetable in a container--from large, bushy tomatoes to hefty potatoes. All you need are some big pots and a place to put them that gets full sun for at least 6 hours a day.

Advantages are many. Garden space may be limited, but there are still places where you can grow container vegetables-- along walks or driveways, or on decks or patios. You start with sterile potting mix, so you can get high-quality homegrown crops even if your garden soil is plagued with gophers, poor drainage, nematodes, verticillium wilt, or wireworms. This kind of gardening involves little bending and no digging, so it's great for people with back or joint problems and those who don't want to get too dirty. And tending and harvesting are usually more convenient, since containers can be placed close to the house.

Even if you already have a productive vegetable plot, you still might want to plant some containers. Soil in containers warms more quickly in spring, so vegetables get a faster start and produce early. In cool, wet climates like that of the Northwest, vegetables can be planted earlier in containers than in garden beds; since the soil doesn't need to be tilled, you don't have to wait for it to dry out before planting.

Containers filled with ripening vegetables can also be decorative. A blank wall, an empty corner, or a large expanse of deck or paving can be transformed into an oasis of interesting textures and colors.

Special requirements for containers

Since roots of plants grown in containers are aboveground, they're more sensitive to temperature extremes than are those of plants growing in the ground. In cold climates, protect tender plants from late frosts in spring; move pots next to the house or cover them with burlap if frost is predicted. In the desert or hot inland valleys, extreme heat can ravage plants.

When the mercury starts to climb, set containers where they'll get afternoon shade. Containers also need a constant supply of moisture. As plants grow, pots become more rootbound. In midsummer heat, soil can dry out quickly. The smaller the container, the more often you'll have to water--sometimes twice a day. If you can't do that, use large containers: a greater volume of soil holds moisture longer. To cut down on labor even more, use drip irrigation regulated by a time clock.

If you live in a windy area, screen vegetables to prevent wilt and foliage damage and to keep tall plants from tipping over.

Which vegetables to try?

Don't restrict yourself to the smaller varieties you may see advertised as ideal for containers. Standard-size vegetables are often more productive and tastier than some of the more compact bush varieties.

Also keep in mind that certain varieties perform best in particular climates. Some are developed for short or long growing seasons, or warm climates; others do better in areas with cool, wet seasons. For a list of vegetable varieties suited to your climate, call your nearest farm advisor or county agent.

Shallow-rooted crops like chard, herbs, lettuce, onions, radishes, and spinach are a snap to grow. Choose any type that you would normally plant in the ground.

Carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, turnips, and other root crops are simple as long as you have a container that's deep enough. For carrots, choose a container that's twice as deep as the length they'll reach at maturity.

Tall or sprawling vegetables with extensive root systems (such as eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes) will bear well if they have enough room for roots to develop. Some varieties may be easier than others. Avoid tomatoes advertised as whoppers; choose kinds with standard-size fruit, such as "Ace', "Celebrity', and "Champion', or small or cherry-size fruit, such as "Pixie', "Small Fry' and "Sweetie'. …

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