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What if your only option for gardening is to do it in pots? Rest assured that with a few large pots, some good potting soil, a little fertilizer, and water you can grow lots of fruits and vegetables in pots.
Seeds or Transplants?
There is a tradeoff between starting your edibles from seed, or starting with small plants from the garden center. Seeds are cheaper, you can find larger variety of plants to grow from seed, and it is fun to nurture a plant from the very get-go. However, transplants from the garden center are often easier for beginners, and if you’re getting started a little late, they’ll help you get back on track.
Buy the best quality potting soil you can afford. The good stuff will tell you right on the bag what it’s made of. Look for things like: Sphagnum peat moss, sedge peat, or coconut coir (coconut coir is an environmentally friendly alternative to peat); Composted, aged forest products; Sand; Vermiculite; Perlite; Charcoal; Wetting agent and water-holding polymer; Lime for balancing the pH. When you look at the actual potting mix, it should be fluffy and smell good.
Picking the Right Pot
Just because you are growing vegetables, doesn’t mean that your pot has to be utilitarian, though it certainly can be if you don’t care about looks. What’s most important is that the pot is large enough for the plant you intend to grow in it. Remember that if everything works out, the baby plant you pot up with be a big plant in a few months. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplants, need a pot that is at least the size of a 5 gallon bucket. While most herbs lettuces, and strawberries are happy in an 8-inch pot. Dwarf fruit trees generally need a pot that is at least 18 inches wide and deep.
In addition to choosing the right size, it’s also important to pick a pot that has the right physical characteristics. Most importantly, the pot must have a drainage hole (or two or three). I’ve found that unglazed ceramic pots tend to dry out quickly, and make keeping my container victory garden well-watered a real pain.
What to Grow
Always, always, always pick edible plants that you and your family like eating. So many times people start an edible garden and pick tomatoes or some other plant because they think that’s what you’re supposed to grow. There are no rules! If you love eating oranges, grow oranges. If you hate basil, don’t grow it!
Once you’ve decided which types of plants you would like to grow, look for dwarf varieties, if the plant is typically huge. Many fruit trees come growing on dwarf rootstock that help keep them a size that is well-suited to container gardens. There are also smaller varieties of tomatoes (though “determinate” tomatoes that are normal sized do well in containers too), cucumbers, and squash. Of course there is no need to find small lettuces, herbs, and strawberries, they’re already a great size for pots!
Keeping Your Victory Garden Going Strong
There are two very important things you need to do to maintain your container victory garden: keep your plants well-watered, and given them the proper amount of fertilizer. Perform a two-knuckle test to determine if your plants need water. Stick your finger into the soil down to the second knuckle. If the soil feels dry, give your plants enough water so that it starts draining out of the bottom of the pot. In the summer, you may be watering every day. If the soil feels moist, don’t water.
Fertilizing is also very important. Every time you water, you are washing precious nutrients out of the pot and away from your plants. To remedy this, you should fertilize your plants with fertilizer meant for the type of edible you are growing at 1/2 strength every two weeks, or use slow-release fertilizer granules. My preferred method is to use the kind of fertilizer that can be added to the water in my watering can, which makes fertilizing as easy as pouring a little bit into my can and watering as I would normally.