Patio Produce: Growing vegetables in containers

By Wayne Hobbs Environmental Horticulture Agent, Clay County

CLAY COUNTY – Anyone can grow vegetables at home. This simple fact should be encouraging if you dream of having produce but are lacking in space. In fact, in our area it is often best to take vegetable growing out of the traditional, in ground garden and into containers.

What kind of container?
Vegetable plants can grow in a variety of different sizes and shapes of containers, as long as they allow enough room for roots. A minimum depth of about 6″ is required and many common plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers need around 5 gallons of soil volume to support growth. Other, smaller plants may take less.
This means that you can grow in buckets, nursery pots, ornamental containers, raised garden beds, or even an old bathtub. If it holds soil, has drainage holes, and does not/has not contained any hazardous materials, it will probably work.

Filling the pot
More important than the actual container itself, what soil do you need? Good soil provides the plants with some nutrients, holds enough moisture while draining well, and allows maximum root growth.
A lightweight, well-drained potting soil mix will likely work along with many commercially available “garden soils”. You can also build your own “soil” by mixing equal parts peat moss, of course vermiculite or sand, and compost. This will likely be the most expensive part of your garden so think about this before you build too large of a raised bed.

Planting your plants
Now that you have a container full of soil, what do you want to plant?
Choose vegetables that you and your family enjoy eating. Most common garden species will do well in a container, but be sure to research varieties that work well in our area and plant them at the right time. A great resource for this information and any questions you may have is the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, found online at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021.

This great resource will also help in determining plant spacing and whether you should start from seeds or transplants.

Placing your pots
Where you put your garden is key, so choose a place that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day and that is close to a water source. Make sure you can easily access your plants and work around them. Oftentimes, your vegetable containers can be attractive and be integrated into your landscape or patio.
Growing Your Garden
Throughout the growing season, be sure to keep the soil in your containers moist but not overly wet. Check the soil moisture level and look out for wilting, which can be a sign of too little or too much water.
Fertilizer is often needed by plants. Start off with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at planting and then you can supplement with a water-soluble fertilizer later in the growing season. For leafy vegetables, keep going with a balanced product but switch over to a product such as 6-12-18 or 8-16-16 for plants producing fruit, seed, tubers, or edible roots.
It’s Florida, so pests will likely show up at some point as well. Keep checking plants regularly and identify and determine the best possible treatment if pests do show up. If you need help with identification, or have any vegetable gardening questions, our Master Gardener Volunteers can help if you email IF-SVC-CLAY-MG@ufl.edu or call (904)284-6355.

Some pests will not cause enough damage to warrant control or can be simply removed by hand or with a spray of your hose. If pesticides are needed, be sure to read the label thoroughly and follow all directions. Stay away from broad-spectrum products, those that kill a large variety of insects, as they can harm our pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Hopefully your first container gardens will be the gateway to a lifetime of enjoying fresh produce from your garden.
If you are interested in more information about gardening, there is a free online course on Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening available at https://ifas-clay.catalog.instructure.com/ or contact us with your questions.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions, or affiliations. USDA, UF/IFAS Extension, FAMU and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating.