Container gardens a good choice for those with lack of space

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 22, 2012

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
Those that live in an apartments or condominiums or homes with no space can utilize containers to grow vegetables. Many kinds of vegetables can be readily grown in containers. Local foods interest has many curious about growing their own vegetables.
Container gardens must have at least five hours or more of full sun each day. Proper containers, good soil mix, planting and spacing requirements, fertilizing, watering, and variety selection are very important for successful container gardening.
Make sure all containers, whether clay, wood, plastic, or ceramic, should have an adequate number of holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Additional holes should be drilled or punched in containers that do not drain quickly after each watering. Drainage is reduced when the container is set on a solid surface such as a cement or patio floor. Raising the container one or two inches off the floor by setting it on blocks of wood will solve this drainage problem.
The size of the container will be determined by the vegetable grown. Generally, most vegetables grown in the soil can be grown in containers as long as ample space is provided for root development. Shallow rooted crops like lettuce, peppers, radishes, and herbs need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an eight inch soil depth. Half barrels, wooden tubs, or large plastic containers are ideal for growing tomatoes, squash, pole beans, and cucumbers.
The ideal planting medium for containers should provide rapid drainage with sufficient water retention to keep the root zone uniformly moist. Most container gardeners have found that a “soilless” potting mix works best. In addition to draining quickly, “soilless” mixes are lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds. These mixes can be purchased from garden centers in various sizes under many different brand names. Avoid using media with water holding crystals. These are generally not registered for use in growing vegetables.
Planting and spacing requirements for most vegetables can be found on the seed packet or plant tag. A container can sustain only a certain number of plants, therefore, it is important to limit the number of plants based on the container size and the eventual size of the plant at maturity. It is always a good idea to plant more seed than needed in each container; there is seldom 100 percent germination and emergence. Thin seedling to the desired number after all the seeds have sprouted and foliage of seedlings is touching.
Regular fertilization applications using a complete analysis should be followed closely since soilless mixes contain little if any nutrients. There are many kinds of specially formulated fertilizers available. The most common N-P-K formulations are 5-10-10 and 10-10-10. Time-release fertilizer (Osmocote 14-14-14) that releases nutrients over a period of time can also be used.
Watering is one of the most important jobs a container gardener will perform. As the plants grow and develop, many vegetables will need watering every day, depending on container size and weather conditions. The best way to water is with a watering can or sprayer attachment on a garden hose. Be sure the water is cool before applying it to the vegetables, particularly if the hose sits in the sun. Hot water does not stimulate root development.
Darrell Blackwelder is the country extension director with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 704-216-8970.