Did you know that many fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be grown in containers? Container gardening is a great way to grow your own food when you have limited space. A patio, windowsill, balcony, or entry area can be a great location to grow edible plants which also bring beauty and interest to those spaces. Even if you live in the city, you can incorporate container gardening into the space you have and grow your own food throughout the year.
Benefits of container gardening
Gardening provides not only the opportunity to grow your own food at home, but also provides physical and mental health benefits. As little as five minutes of gardening can improve self-esteem and mood, and can be a good source of exercise. Growing food at home can also be educational for children, to help them learn about where food comes from. Containers have additional benefits to in-ground gardens, as they can be raised or lowered in height to make access easier. They can also be used to overcome poor soil or soilborne diseases and pests, and can be moved indoors during winter or extreme weather events as well as to extend the growing season.
Right plant, right place, right time
To set up your container garden for success, it is important to select plant varieties that are well-suited for containers and to plant at the appropriate time of year based on the plant. Many plants can grow well in containers, but not all. Choose edibles that have a small footprint (like radishes, lettuces, carrots) or plant varieties that are compact or miniature. Also consider vining varieties, as you can train vines up trellises and take advantage of vertical space. Additionally, selecting varieties that have disease and pest resistance can help combat these issues, should they arise. There are many varieties out there with different textures, tastes, and colors, so pick plants you are excited about! Also use a planting calendar to help you determine the right time of year to plant and to estimate when you will be able to harvest each crop.
What plants can grow well in containers?
The plants listed here are by no means an exhaustive list of the options out there. Vegetables that can grow well in containers in the Piedmont include beans (lima and snap), beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, kale, peas, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, and potatoes. Fruits include apples, blueberries, grapes, figs, citrus, peaches, and strawberries. Herbs such as basil, dill, chives, lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, parsley, stevia, thyme, and tarragon are also good choices. And if we did not mention your favorite veggie or fruit, do some research to see if it would do well in a container! North Carolina Cooperative Extension can help you to look into this.
How to select containers
There are many options for containers, including various materials, shapes, and sizes. Suitable materials include clay, metal, plastic, or wood. Important requirements for containers are: 1) they are large enough to accommodate your plant at full size, 2) they have adequate drainage for water to leave, 3) they can hold soil without it spilling out, and 4) they do not contain any substances toxic to plants or people. Good options for containers include flower pots, barrels, window boxes, and those made of rot-resistant wood like cedar or cypress. Most containers need to be at least 6-8 inches deep to allow healthy root systems to develop.
Additional considerations for container gardens
Select locations for containers where there is enough light for your plant’s needs. Most vegetables grown for their fruit need at least 5 hours of direct sunlight daily, but will do better with 8-10 hours. Root or leaf crops can typically do well in partially shaded areas. For soil, use a light-weight potting mix, as soil directly from your yard can be too heavy if there is a fair amount of clay. Watering is even more important for plants grown in containers, as their smaller soil volume can dry out quickly. Plant nutrition is also important to consider. If using a soil mix with fertilizer added, there will likely be enough nutrients for 8-10 weeks. After this, apply a water-soluble fertilizer at the recommended rate.
To close, container gardening is a great way to grow foods you love and to make the most of your small space. By selecting varieties that are well-suited for containers and by planting at the right time of year, you can have vegetables, fruits, and herbs to eat year-round and enjoy the beauty they can bring to your home.
Written By Meredith Favre, Local Foods Extension Agent, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center