Sarah Browning: Gardening where space is tight | Home & Garden

SARAH BROWNING For the Lincoln Journal Star

If you’re short on space, try your hand at creating a patio or container garden. Containers fit well on an apartment patio or balcony, as well as in larger landscapes.

The key to being successful involves using large containers, a good growing media and selecting vegetables and flowering plants sized right for growing in containers.

Container gardens are also a good alternative to help solve the following problems.

• Older homes often have high levels of lead in planting beds near the home’s foundation, due to the use of lead-based paint in years past, which has accumulated in the soil.

• Gardens with high levels of soil-borne disease pathogens, such as Fusarium.

• Small landscapes with limited space for a vegetable garden can be hampered by the presence of a black walnut tree. Instead of planting vegetables around the roots of these trees, use containers for gardening or build a raised bed away from the dripline of the tree.

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• Containers are also helpful for those with mobility problems. They eliminate the need to kneel down when planting or stoop over to harvest.

The most productive vegetables to grow in containers are tomato, pepper, salad crops, spinach, kale and chard. Herbs and cole or root crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots and radish are also well adapted. Be sure to select dwarf and bush types of vegetables, including some of the tomato cultivars listed below.

Bush or patio tomato cultivars

• Cherry: Orange Pixie, Patio Choice Yellow, (2017 AAS), Sugary (2005 AAS)

• Standard: Bush Celebrity, Jetstar, Mountain Spring, Patio, Patio Princess

• Beefsteak: Bush Goliath, BushSteak, Bush Beefsteak

Containers and soil

Many types of containers can be used for patio gardening. Containers may be clay, plastic, glass, metal or wood, but also consider items you have on hand that might be considered junk. Examples include old garbage cans or wheelbarrows and half whiskey barrels. Whatever container you use, be sure to create several holes in the bottom of the container for drainage.

Container size plays a significant role in the success of your patio garden, so choose the largest containers possible. Larger containers hold more moisture and buffer soil temperature better than small containers. Tomatoes, in particular, need a large container to perform well so 10 to 20 gallon containers, or larger, are preferred. However, with small patio-type tomato cultivars, you could get away with a 3-gallon container, but no smaller!

Avoid the use of garden soil as a planting medium. Native soil is often heavy, with a high percentage of clay, restricting water and oxygen penetration into the soil. Plus it contains many plant pathogenic soil bacteria and fungi.

A better choice is to either purchase premade potting soil or create your own soil mix containing two to three of the following components: compost, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, sand and bark chips. Don’t use more than 50% compost in the blend; decreasing plant growth has been documented with higher rates.

Provide full sun and regular watering for your vegetables to do their best. Slow release, granular fertilizer can be mixed in the soil at planting time. Use a half-tablespoon per gallon of container size. Water-soluble fertilizer can be used every 1 to 2 weeks throughout the growing season for additional nutrients, but mix it slightly weaker than the label recommendation.

Support structures

Taller vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, will likely need support. Tomato cages can be used for smaller vegetables, such as peppers or bush cucumbers. Create cylinders with concrete reinforcing wire to support tall, heavy plants like tomatoes. Anchor them well into the soil, so they can support the weight of a fully loaded tomato plant.

For more ideas on great compact vegetable cultivars to grow in containers, visit Container Vegetable Varieties from Colorado State University.

Sarah Browning is an extension educator with Nebraska Extension. To ask a question or reach her, call 402-441-7180 ​​or write to her at or 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528.


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