You can grow winter vegetables in containers

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  8/31/2009 8:41:16 PM

For Release On Or After 09/25/09

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

The satisfaction of growing fresh vegetables is undeniable, yet many gardeners don’t have a suitable in-ground location to grow them. If you’re forced to do your gardening in containers because of circumstances (such as living in an apartment), you should know that many cool-season vegetables can be grown successfully in containers if they are given adequate care and the proper-size containers. Vegetables grown during the winter are quite hardy and can generally withstand normal winter temperatures once they’re established.

Vegetables grown in containers need more frequent attention (such as watering) than those grown in the ground, but the work is easier physically. That makes this technique good for older vegetable gardeners and children who may find cultivating in-ground beds too physically demanding. One of the biggest labor-saving advantages to vegetable gardening in containers is that weeding is far, far less of a chore.

Select a sunny location outdoors for your container vegetable garden. All vegetables grow best where the sun shines directly on the plants at least six to eight hours a day. A location that also allows drainage water to run freely from containers is also needed. It is a good idea to use small bricks to raise larger containers off wood porches or decks to prevent damaging the wood.

The larger the containers you use, the more choices you have of vegetables to grow – production is generally higher and you don’t have to water as often. Plastic or clay pots, tubs, half whisky barrels or other containers may be purchased, but virtually any container you can cut or punch drainage holes into may be used. (Inexpensive Styrofoam ice chests work well, for instance.) If the container has been used for other purposes, wash it with warm, soapy water and rinse it thoroughly before using it.

Fill the container with a commercial potting mix that drains well. The level of soil should be somewhat below the rim of the container after planting. This is called head space and helps facilitate proper watering.

Select and plant vegetable seeds or transplants. Some of the vegetables you can plant over the next few weeks include root crops such as beets, carrots, radish and turnips as seeds directly into the pot. Or you can set in transplants. Containers of different sizes can accommodate various plants as follows:

– One-gallon container: two-three beets, three carrots, one celery, one Chinese cabbage, one collards, two garlic, one kohlrabi, one leek, one or two lettuce, two mustard greens, two or three bunching onions, one parsley, three to four radishes, two to three shallots, two spinach, one Swiss chard, two turnips.

– Two-gallon container: one broccoli, one cabbage, one kale.

– Three-gallon container: one Brussels sprouts, one cauliflower.

These minimum container sizes for various vegetables will allow them to mature and produce properly. You can certainly plant a greater number of any of these vegetables into containers larger than listed. For instance, while one or two lettuce plants can be grown in a 1-gallon container, you can grow three to five in a 3-gallon container. Using larger containers means they don’t need to be watered as often, and they offer more cold protection to the roots

Check the soil daily and water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Don’t allow the vegetable plants to wilt before watering. Always water gently until water runs out of the drainage holes of the container. To minimize disease problems, try to water without wetting the foliage, if possible.

A soluble fertilizer (the kind you dissolve in water to apply) applied about every two weeks works well for container vegetables. Slow-release fertilizers also can be used, and they reduce the need to repeatedly apply soluble fertilizer. Follow label directions. Without adequate fertilizer, vegetables take longer to develop and will produce less to harvest.

Weeds occasionally will appear in container plantings and should be removed promptly if you see them. You don’t need to apply mulch to cover the soil surface and prevent weeds the way we do in traditional garden beds, but you may. The problem with doing this is that it is harder to tell when plants need water because you can no longer see the soil surface.

Check plants daily to control insects and diseases when they appear. Fortunately, insect and disease problems occur far less often in the winter than in the summer growing season. If problems do occur, contact your parish LSU AgCenter extension office for help in diagnosis and control.

Harvest your vegetables regularly, promptly and at the proper stage for maximum quality. After all, this is the reward for the effort.

If you have given up growing vegetables because of physical limitations, do give container vegetable gardening a try. And if you live in an apartment or condo and only have a sunny patio or balcony, container vegetable gardening will allow you to experience the rewards of growing your own fresh vegetables.

Rick Bogren

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