If you don’t have much space in your garden but want to grow your own vegetables, don’t worry, many vegetables can be successfully grown in containers. Whether you have pots or window boxes, you can grow a range of vegetables from herbs to tomatoes. Containers of vegetables can be dotted around your garden, even placed in amongst the flower beds, or you can create an attractive and useful arrangement of pots and containers outside your kitchen for easy access. If container vegetable gardening appeals to you there are a few things to consider before you start.
Types of container
There are many types of container you can buy nowadays and you can grow vegetables in just about anything, from classic terracotta to plastic, wood, metal and even recycled materials like old tyres. Terracotta pots look great but they do tend to heat up quickly, drying out the soil. You can remedy this by lining your pot with a plastic liner; a strong bin liner should do the trick. Terracotta can also be prone to frost damage, so look out for frost proof rather than frost hardy ones. Wood can be very stylish but does have a limited life span as it will eventually rot. Again you can prolong the life of a good wooden planter by lining it with plastic and treating the wood. But make sure you use an organic product that won’t leak harmful chemicals into the soil. Metal planters are great, especially if you’re garden has a more contemporary feel. However, the drawback with metal is that it heats up quickly and also conducts the cold.
Plastic may not be the first choice of many but it does have many advantages for growing vegetables. Plastic pots are lightweight and so easily moved around; they retain water longer than clay, don’t break and are not affected by frost. You can also get some very realistic plastic containers that replicate natural materials like terracotta and even metal very well. Growbags are also a useful way of growing vegetables, particularly tomatoes and cucumbers. Old compost sacks or dustbins can be used to grow potatoes. Also, try growing tomatoes in a hanging basket. Choose a tumbling variety that will cascade down and provide you delicious fruit all summer.
Size of container
The size of your container is very important. It may seem obvious that you aren’t going to grow much in a litre sized pot, but it it’s worth noting that many vegetables grow quite large and of course, the more space you allow, the more crops you can grow. If you want to grow root vegetables such as carrots or parsnips, which often benefit from container growing because there is less obstruction to the growth of the root from stones or large clods of earth, choose a deep container. Root vegetables need a container with a depth of at least 30cm. Use shallower pots for growing salad crops such as lettuce or radish, or herbs.
Preparing containers for growing vegetables
Vegetables grown in containers are more restricted than those grown in open ground, so make sure you use good quality compost. It is also a good idea to use compost that retains water. Drainage is very important, so you will need to make sure you have plenty of drainage holes in your container. Cover the bottom with broken shards of pots which will also help with drainage.
Looking after your vegetable containers
Limited space in a container will mean that your vegetables have access to only a limited amount of nutrients from the compost they are grown in. It is therefore important to feed them regularly. You can add slow release fertiliser to your compost before planting but if not then feed with a general all round plant food. Remember, crops such as tomatoes will need plenty of potassium-rich fertiliser in order to produce a good crop.
Watering is also important. Just as you don’t want your container to become waterlogged, you also don’t want it to dry out. It is not enough to rely on rainfall as even the heaviest shower often does not penetrate the roots of container grown plants. In dry weather you may need to water at least twice a day. The best times are first thing in the morning and last thing at night. As a general rule your container will need watering when the top inch of compost feels dry. You can help retain water in a planter by mulching the top with grit or well rotted garden material.
Lastly, make sure you check your containers regularly for weeds and pests such as snails and slugs which can decimate a crop in a very short time!
Advantages to container vegetable gardening
If you still need some convincing, consider some of the advantages to growing vegetables in garden planters. Pots and containers can be moved around the garden more easily, either to take maximum advantage of the sun or to make them more accessible when needed, such as moving them nearer to the kitchen. You can also grow a number of varieties together in the same planter. You can create some very attractive arrangements by mixing vegetables with flowers or instance. Combine herbs and salad leaves with flowers such as marigolds which will not only look pretty but help to keep harmful insects away too.
Jo Poultney is one of two people behind Garden Planters. I have an RHS general certificate in horticulture. Garden Planters source unusual outdoor and indoor planters, and other garden related gifts – whatever your taste, be it traditional, modern or just a bit quirky, we will have something for you. I believe garden planters are an integral part of any garden – they enhance the overall design and say a little something about the person to whom the garden belongs. If you would like to know more about Garden Planters, visit our website at http://www.gardenplantersshop.co.uk
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