Many cool seasonal vegetables can be planted now and grown successfully in containers.
This allows you to have a kitchen garden, even if you only have a sunny balcony, porch or terrace, and if you do not want the physical requirements to grow vegetables in the ground. You just have to make sure they get proper care.
Choose a sunny outdoor location for the containers. All vegetables grow best in full sun. The place must have direct sun for at least six hours a day.
Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, parsley, mustard greens and collard, will produce quite well with as little as four hours of sun, but they will produce better and faster in full sun.
Choose large containers. The larger the container, the more choices you have of vegetables to grow, the production is generally higher and you do not have to water as often. In addition, it is far easier to take care of a few large containers than many smaller ones.
Plastic or clay pots, tubs, half whiskey barrels or other containers can be purchased, but virtually any container in which you can cut or insert drainage holes can be used. It includes e.g. cheap Styrofoam ice chests, livestock watering troughs or recycled 5-liter paint buckets. Make at least four holes, evenly distributed around the sides, in the bottom of the container.
Fill the container with commercial potting mix or potting soil. The soil level should be one or two inches below the edge of the container after planting. This is called head space and helps facilitate proper watering.
Garden columnist Dan Gill answers readers’ questions every week. To send a question, send an email to Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may want to mix some finished, homemade compost into the pot mix before filling the containers. I mix up to one-third sifted compost into two-thirds potting mix. Compost is packed with beneficial fungi and bacteria that promote healthy roots and vigorous plants. Compost also provides important plant nutrients.
Use small bricks or pot feet to raise containers away from wooden porches or wooden decks. This prevents the drainage water from accumulating under the containers and possibly staining or damaging the wood.
If the pot fits, plant it
You can plant containers with vegetable seeds or transplants (root crops should be planted using seeds).
This is a good time to think about the coming year in the landscape, so here is a message on when specific activities should be performed for your…
Avoid overfilling the vegetables. This is a common mistake. Overcrowded vegetables are not as productive and can lead to crop failure and increased pest problems.
It is generally a good idea to choose less-growing cultivars or those described as developed for container culture. You can even combine different types of vegetables in the same container.
Water and fertilizer
Check the soil daily and water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Do not allow the vegetable plants to wither before watering.
An even supply of water is important for the best production and crop quality. Always water gently until the water runs out of the container drain holes. To minimize leaf diseases, avoid wetting the foliage when watering.
A soluble fertilizer for general use (the kind you dissolve in water to apply) applied every two weeks as needed, works well for container vegetables. Organic options include fish emulsion, liquid seaweed or other fish or seaweed-based fertilizers.
Now would be an excellent time to make a landscaping plan for a small area and do some design and planting.
Slow-release fertilizers for general purposes can also be used during planting and reduce the need to repeatedly apply soluble fertilizer. Follow the label instructions for the product you are using.
Plants need fertilizer when they are light green, lack vigor and the older, lower leaves are yellow. Without sufficient fertilizer, vegetables take longer to develop and will produce less.
Weeds will occasionally appear in container plantations and should be removed immediately. But this is far easier than weeding pray.
Check plants daily and fight insects and diseases when necessary. Fortunately, insect and disease problems occur far less frequently in winter than in the summer growing season. If problems still occur, contact your parish’s LSU AgCenter Expansion Office for assistance with diagnosis and control.
Lastly, you need to harvest your vegetables regularly, quickly and at the right time for maximum quality. It is, after all, the reward for the effort.
If you have stopped growing vegetables due to physical limitations, try growing vegetables in containers. And if you live in an apartment or condominium and only have a sunny patio or balcony, the container vegetable garden will allow you to experience the benefits of growing your own fresh vegetables.
The right size
The following are some of the vegetables that can be planted now, along with the smallest size pot to plant them in.
The number of plants that can be planted in the container is shown in parentheses (this is primarily based on the size of the vegetable plant at maturity).
One gallon container:
- beets (2 to 3)
- carrots (3)
- celery (1)
- Chinese cabbage (1)
- necklace (1)
- garlic (2)
- kohlrabi (1)
- leeks (1)
- salad (2)
- mustard green (2)
- bunch of onions (2 to 3)
- parsley (1)
- radish (2 to 3)
- shallots (2 to 3)
- spinach (2)
- Chard (1)
- turnip (2)
You can plant more vegetables in a larger container. For example, you can plant six turnips in a 3-gallon container or 10 turnips in a 5-gallon container
Three gallon container:
- broccoli (2)
- cabbage (1 or 2)
- kale (2)
- Brussels sprouts (1)
- cauliflower (1)
Five gallon container:
- broccoli (3-4)
- cabbage or two cauliflower transplants (2)
Dan Gill is a retired consumer horticulture specialist with LSU AgCenter. He hosts the “Garden Show” on WWL-AM Saturdays at 9. Send an email with questions about gardening to email@example.com.