Container gardening for vegetables

STILLWATER – Fortunately, for those who do not have ample space around their home, they do not have to miss out on all the gardening fun.  Those who have even just a few square feet of available space can still work on their green thumb and beautify their outdoor space.  And the good thing is if that available space is a concrete patio or even an apartment balcony, you can still demonstrate your green-thumb skills by planting in containers.

Ray Campbell, who is serving as a guest host on Oklahoma Gardening, which airs each weekend on OETA, said container gardening has a multitude of advantages.

“Many people think of container gardening as being only flowers or small shrubs, but you can actually grow many different types of edibles, including vegetables and herbs,” he said. “Although container gardening includes many of the same elements as traditional gardening, it isn’t nearly as time consuming. And once you get your flowers, herbs or vegetables planted, basically all you have to do is keep it fertilized and watered. The Oklahoma summer heat can quickly dry out the potting soil in your containers, so your gardening time will mostly be spent watering instead of pulling weeds.”

When it comes to the container itself, get creative. Anyone can go to the gardening store and pick up the basic terracotta pot. Think about your personality and see if you can find containers that reflect your interests.

If antiques are your thing, consider using an old galvanized wash tub as a planter. A birdbath that is not being used for birds any longer is another great choice. A child’s wagon or even an old toy dump truck can hold a variety of plants.

“Whatever container you choose, make sure it has good drainage. If your potting soil becomes waterlogged, your plants can experience root rot and won’t survive,” said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture specialist. “If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, just drill a few through the bottom.”

Once you have the container selected, it is time to head to the gardening store to select the potting soil and plants. Just as you need good quality soil for traditional gardening, it is a must for container gardening as well. Hillock suggests starting with a reputable potting soil manufacturer, which will be weed and disease free.

“When selecting the plants you want to grow, be sure to choose plants for the sun/shade exposure you have in the space you want to place the containers. Also, if different types of plants are going in the same container, make sure they have similar sun, shade, fertilizer and water requirements,” he said. “It’ll be a disappointing outcome if your plants don’t have similar needs.”

To help create visual interest in your containers, consider planting an upright, bold plant in the middle. Fill in the space around the taller plant with filler plants and finish it off with a plant variety that will drape over the edges of the container. Gardeners also can add interest with pebbles, rocks and other nonplant materials.

Campbell wants to caution container gardeners the soil will dry out much quicker so attention to daily watering is a must. In the heat of the summer and depending on the size of the container, twice-daily watering may be required.

When it comes to vegetables, zucchini, squash, bush beans and patio tomatoes are great choices for containers. Because space is limited, you are not likely to be inundated with more produce than can be consumed.

While ease of care is a big advantage to container gardening, Campbell pointed out another factor that can make it even more appealing.

“Your containers are portable. If you happen to move to a new location, simply load up your containers and go,” he said. “If you’re staying put, but the sun exposure on your patio is changing throughout the summer, simply move the pots into or out of the shade. And as the weather cools down in the fall, you can move some of your plants indoors. This will allow you to enjoy those fresh herbs all year long.”

Fertilizer is another important aspect of any garden. Hillock suggests fertilizing every week or two to help ensure the most gardening success. “Don’t give up on your dream of having a garden simply because you live somewhere in which the outdoor space is limited,” Hillock said. “With container gardening, the only limitation is your imagination.”