By Skip Richter
If you don’t have space for a traditional garden, try gardening in containers. You can grow any vegetable in a container that you can grow in the ground if the container is large enough.
Container gardens are often portable, making it easy to move them into a protected spot when a frost threatens, or to utilize a sunny spot for best production. Container gardening saves space, and allows you to garden around a deck or patio, down a fence line or even alongside a driveway.
Here are some tips for success with creating your own container garden this fall season.
The more growing media a container can hold the better, because they allow for a larger root zone, which reduces the need for frequent watering and fertilizing.
Greens like lettuce and spinach need a minimum of a gallon-sized container but will do best with 2 or more gallons. Medium-sized fruiting vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower should have 3 to 5 gallons of growing media.
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If you wish to continue container gardening next spring and summer, even larger containers are needed as the summer crops can be much larger plants and the weather is hot and demanding.
Plants don’t care if what they are growing in is pretty or ugly, so a 5-gallon bucket, livestock supplement tubs, a galvanized washtub or cattle water trough is as acceptable as expensive glazed pottery.
I use a couple of old wheelbarrows. They hold plenty of soil and can be moved easily into a protected garage when necessary to avoid a killing frost or freeze. Wheelbarrows filled with vegetables are also quite a conversation piece for the neighbors when wheeled into that prime sunny spot in the front yard!
Whatever non-traditional container you use, make sure it has several 1/4 to 3/8 inch holes in the bottom for drainage.
Great growing media
Use a quality growing medium rather than garden soil for optimum drainage as well as nutrient and moisture-holding capacity. Provide a slow-release fertilizer in the mix and be ready to supplement as needed over the fall and winter season.
Choosing fall vegetables
Choose a variety of cool-season vegetables such as lettuce, arugula, Chinese cabbage and other Asian greens, mustard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale and cool-season peas (snow, snap and English types).
Root crops such as radishes, carrots, turnips and beets also do very well in containers. Now carrots need a taller container, although shorter carrot varieties are available.
There is often a significant difference between cultivars when it comes to their days-to-harvest numbers, so choose cultivars that mature quickly. For example, snap peas that mature in 60 days or less will usually be more productive — and less likely to freeze before they reach harvest time — than ones that take 70 or more days.
Caring for your container garden
Water as needed to maintain most soil. This will vary from daily to every few days depending on temperature, plant size, pot size, the media’s water-holding capacity and the amount of sunlight. If you let the plants dry out, the stress can stunt them and reduce production significantly.
Plants in containers are more susceptible to cold weather than in-ground plants because of their above-ground root system. Be prepared to protect them when a hard freeze is forecast. Move your containers to a protected area such as a garage or shop during a freeze. If your container is too large to lift safely, a dolly or hand truck with a strap to go around the container makes moving it a breeze.
Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Brazos County. For local gardening information and events, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email email@example.com.