Think you need a big space to grow your own food? Think again.
Containers on your patio or deck, balcony or stoop can yield plenty of food and beauty.
There are many advantages to container gardens. Obviously, they’re great for anyone with limited space. They’re inexpensive. Plus, there’s no digging or tilling.
Containers limit bending, a plus for us — ahem — of an age. They work well in areas with poor soil or persistent soil-borne disease. They’re moveable and largely weed free.
The sunny spot is also a must. Now vegetables need full sun, at least six hours a day. A few cool-season plants like lettuce grow best in spring and fall or in less sun or the shade of taller plants.
What containers work best? Those with drainage holes. Other than that, you’re limited only by your imagination. Think half barrels, crocks, clay pots and hanging baskets. Use what you have, hit a garden center or go online.
Have fun experimenting. You’ll find photos of creative containers from pallets to laundry baskets at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/container-vegetable-garden-photos.
If you’re handy, check out our DIY salad box at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/build-salad-box%E2%84%A2.
I’ve grown in crocks and teapots, barrels and bins. But this year, I simply grouped a dozen clay and hypertufa pots on my concrete patio to grow tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers.
Size your pots to your plants. Both the top and roots need room to grow. A 1- to 3-gallon pot will do for herbs, radishes, chard and dwarf tomatoes or cucumbers.
A 4- to 5-gallon pot works for deep-rooted plants such as standard tomatoes and peppers, beans, eggplant and broccoli.
The right soil is crucial. Don’t use heavy garden soil, which can drown roots. Instead use a soilless growing medium or potting mix, light mixes that drain well, hold water and nutrients and are free of weeds, insects and disease. Add compost if you like.
There is no need to layer stones at the bottom of the pot. Just put in your potting mix, leaving an inch or two at the top. Then plant your vegetables, following the directions on the seed packet or plant label.
Jazz up your pots by mixing in some herbs and annuals. They add color and texture and attract beneficial insects and pollinators.
Hefty plants or climbers like beans, tomatoes and peppers need support. Use homemade or store-bought stakes, wires or trellises.
Water is crucial for containers. Since containers dry out faster, you’ll need to check — and sometimes water — them daily, especially when it’s hot and dry. You must be vigilant.
Self-watering containers are time-savers. You can make your own out of a 5-gallon bucket with these directions: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/self-watering-containers.
You can also find self-watering containers under names like EarthBox online or at a garden center or home-improvement stores.
Remember to fertilize your containers. Frequent watering leaches nutrients, so they need to be fertilized regularly throughout the growing season.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to try your hand at gardening in containers. It’s a great way to use smaller spaces, grow your own food and experiment with a new gardening style.