Gazette Gardener: Container gardening practical, but there are a couple of limitations

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
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Cabbage, eggplant and marigolds create an interesting combination in this container garden created by Robin Wolfe at Wells Nursery.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Cabbage, eggplant and marigolds create an interesting combination in this container garden created by Robin Wolfe at Wells Nursery.

The advantages of growing food in containers has made even gardeners with room to plant in the ground look into planting vegetables in urns, window boxes and pots.

There are plenty of good reasons: little, if any, weeding; known soils; fewer pests; the ability to grow in a limited amount of space; the ability to place the container where it gets the best sun; or near where it can be easily harvested.

While yields are generally less than what you can expect from plants grown in the soil, containers, even window boxes, offer enough room for a few vegetables and herbs. And if you shop with small-space gardening in mind, you will likely find suitable plants that offer beauty, texture, interest and food.

What vegetables are best suited to growing in containers?

Those with a confined, compact growth habit. Possibilities include salad greens, spinach, eggplant, Swiss chard, beets, radish, carrots, peppers, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, bush varieties of summer squash and cucumbers, green onions and herbs.

Class set for Saturday

If you aren’t sure which plants to choose or how to arrange them, Robin Wolfe, at Wells Nursery on Aqueduct Road in Niskayuna will be covering the basics in a class this Saturday at 10 a.m. She will share advice from selecting the right container, to soil and fertilizers, to choosing plants and proper watering.

Just about anything can be used as a container. “You can grow plants in a variety of containers. . . . Even an old barbecue grill can become a garden,” Wolfe said. I have seen old wheelbarrows become excellent planters.

Whatever container you use, the key is to make sure the pot has good drainage and is an appropriate size for the number of plants you intend to grow. For example, a full-sized tomato plant needs about 5 gallons of soil. A dwarf tomato or pepper plant needs about 2 gallons of soil.

Last year, Wolfe planted several containers for the nursery that included eggplants, tomatoes, parsley, carrots, kale, cabbage and edible flowers for color. The containers were both attractive and productive. She used red cabbage, marigolds, tomato and eggplants in one and in another she planted parsley, white eggplant and tomatoes.

“You can use colored basil, colored lettuces, peppers, red cabbage, Redbor kale or you can make a salsa pot of cilantro, chili peppers and tomatoes,” she said. You could also add edible flowers such as nasturtiums, calendula, chives and violets.

The one drawback of this type of gardening is that containers need frequent watering, sometimes twice a day during hot spells. This is less of an issue if you use containers with a water reservoir at the base. To make life even easier, you can purchase irrigation systems for containers and timers that will turn on the water system automatically.

Sources for advice

If you would like to know more, landscape architect Pamela Crawford, recently published a colorful how-to manual: “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers” (Color Garden Publishing, $19.95).

The book is full of good advice for beginners and experienced gardeners including what worked for her, what didn’t, cultural information and problems you may encounter. In her containers, Crawford adds flowing ornamentals to vegetables and herbs. The results are beautiful.

For example, a single yellow crookneck squash plant planted in a cobalt-blue glazed urn was striking. For more ideas, visit her Web site:

Happy Gardening.

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