Container gardens are one of North America’s hottest trends and a movable feast for the senses. Containers allow you to grow your favorite vegetables with no ground to till or weeds to tend. It also helps brighten up your patio, balcony or deck.
Even if you don't have much sunny ground, you can still experience the pleasure of harvesting your own vine-ripened tomatoes and other food stuff. All you need is a generous-size container, good potting soil, and a suitable spot which is usually a spot that gets at least six hours of sun a day.
Also, since soil in pots warms up much faster during the spring season than they would plant in the ground, you can get tomatoes or peppers off to a much faster start. Tall pots should be considered by those with mobility issues as they make it easier to tend plants without kneeling or squatting.
Vegetables in containers also add visual punch to your landscape. Choose large, decorative containers and surround them with smaller pots of colorful flowers, and you'll have attractive focal points ― and a bounty of vegetables ― all summer long.
Potting medium. Use a high-quality mix containing peat moss and perlite. Blend in a complete fertilizer, either a dry organic product ― such as one containing alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, or other natural nutrients ― or a controlled-release type that supplies nutrients over a three-to-six-month period.
If you plan to water pots by hand, add soil polymers such as Broadleaf P4 (available at most garden centers) to the mix before planting to help alleviate the wet-dry cycle.
As the soil dries out, these small crystals, which absorb a hundred or more times their weight in water, supply moisture to the roots.
Vegetable Selections To Plant
Tomatoes: If you want to grow any food at all this year, then you should put tomatoes in the mix. Tomatoes thrive in container gardens. In pots, their roots stay warm and they have the drainage needed for them to expand vigorously.
Cut-again salad greens: Not long ago, plants like lettuce and spinach were hidden away in the corners of the garden. To cut-and-come-again, wait until the leaves are five to six inches high and then cut a few at a time (just enough for your fresh salad). Leave one to two inches of stubble and the leaf will grow several more times, ensuring a multitude of tiny bounties. Scatter a few seeds into the moist soil to make sure the buffet doesn’t close.
Strawberries galore: There are few tastier treats than garden-picked strawberries with ice-cream on a summer’s afternoon. They thrive in containers of all kinds as long as they are kept well-watered and have a nice sunny locale.
Other plants to consider for your balcony garden include potatoes, chard, peppers, eggplants, summer squash & pole beans. And don't forget the herbs!
Planting Depth - Here are the minimum soil depths for healthy growth. Keep in mind that you can get by with less depth if you use a self-watering planter.
4-5 inches: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander
6-7 inches: bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme
8-9 inches: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary
10-12 inches: beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass
Watering - The best way to water vegetables in containers is with drip irrigation operated by an automatic controller. For each container, install a circle of inline emitters over the soil or distribute three or four 1/2-gallon-per-hour emitters over the soil surface (use more for very large pots). Set the controller to water often enough to keep the soil moist (in hot temperatures that might be daily or every other day).
If you hand-water, never allow the soil to dry out completely.
Pests - If aphids, mites, or whiteflies attack your plants spray them with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Handpick and destroy tomato hornworms.
Harvest - Pick crops when they're ripe: beans before the seeds swell inside the pods; cucumbers and squash when fruits are fully expanded but not seedy; eggplants while skin is shiny; peppers when fully grown and showing appropriate color (green, red, or another shade); tomatoes when fully colored (red, orange, or yellow).