Many urban dwellers may lack either the proper growing environment or the space to successfully grow vegetables or flowers. If you live in an apartment or condo or your tiny backyard is shady, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy gardening. Growing plants in containers provides an excellent environment in which to produce your own food or brighten your surroundings with fresh flowers.
Any container that is free of contaminants, food safe, holds moist soil and provides drainage for excess water can be used for growing plants. The key is to provide a large enough container to hold the plant when it is full grown. Eight litre containers are recommended for large plants like tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli or corn, whereas a bunch of radishes can be seeded into a 15-centimtre diameter dish that is only five to eight centimetres deep. Consider the recommended in-row and between-the-row spacing for the particular plant(s) you are growing and space them accordingly in the container.
The growing media must be capable of holding water as well as draining. Garden soil does not drain well in pots and is not recommended for container gardening. Commercial media containing peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and some micronutrients are recommended. Contact your local garden centre for available products.
Add compost or well-rotted manure annually to the media for pot grown vegetables. The addition of compost increases organic matter, which helps to retain moisture and nutrients as well as providing a base line of nutrients. Replace container soil every two years to minimize disease and pest issues.
The most challenging issue with growing plants in containers is maintaining adequate water and fertility management. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Provide a weekly soluble fertilizer application of 20-20-20, mixed according to label directions. Monitoring water and nutrients is an essential daily task.
Select the plants based on the location of your containers. A warm and sunny area is perfect for vegetables or flowers that prefer hot sunny locations. Remember, a hot, windy, dry location will require much more monitoring and management than a sheltered location. Growing plants on a west- or south-facing balcony several floors above the ground can be challenging. These conditions tend to be hot and dry. If you are growing flowers, choose cultivars that are recommended for dry conditions such as portulaca, gazania, bidens or verbenia. If the only location you have is semi-shade or shade, don’t despair. Vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, mustard greens and beets will grow in shady areas. Herbs are also a possibility in shady areas. Flowers that prefer shady locations include impatiens and begonias.
To speed up seed germination, place a sheet of clear perforated plastic over the top of the pot to warm up the soil. Remove the plastic as soon as seedlings have emerged to avoid overheating. Clear plastic pop bottles with the ends cut off can serve as mini-greenhouses for individual plants in pots.
To take full advantage of the limited space in your containers, try intercropping and vertical growing. Intercropping is a method of planting a smaller, fast-growing crop between slower-growing, larger vegetables. The short season crop matures just as the slower crop begins to need additional space. Possible combinations include lettuce grown around cabbage or broccoli, radishes and green onions grown between carrots, or spinach growing around a tomato.
To make the most of your space in your vegetable pots, provide a structure for climbing and sprawling plants. Something as simple as a bamboo stake can provide support for pea, pole bean or cucumber plants. Cantaloupe and smaller watermelon can be grown vertically as long as developing fruit are supported by a sling made from expandable material such as women’s hosiery.
Be creative, try new combinations. Maintain watering and fertilizing and you will be successful.
— This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (firstname.lastname@example.org). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events: June 1- 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., University of Saskatchewan Fruit Research Program annual fruit tree and plant sale. For details see http://www.fruit.usask.ca/extension.html. June 10 - 2 p.m. SPS self guided garden tour. Start at 1606 Early Drive.