By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(01/13/17) If you have not considered the option of growing vegetables in containers, perhaps you should. Container gardens provide a way to grow vegetables when suitable land is not available. Apartment dwellers may only have a balcony where pots could be placed. Other gardeners may find that the only areas in their yards that get the full sun vegetables need are covered by concrete.
In addition, growing vegetables in containers is less physically demanding than growing vegetables in the ground. That makes this method good for older gardeners, those who are physically handicapped, young children or anyone who may find cultivating and weeding in-ground beds too physically demanding or time consuming.
Many cool-season vegetables can be planted now and grown successfully in containers. You just need to make sure that they are given proper care.
Select a sunny outdoor location for a container vegetable garden. The location should receive direct sun at least six hours a day. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, parsley, mustard greens and collards, will produce fairly well with as little as four hours of sun. But they will produce better and faster in full sun.
Choose larger-sized containers. The larger the container, the more choices you have of vegetables to grow. Production is generally higher, and you don’t have to water as often. It is also far easier to take care of a few large containers than many smaller ones.
You may purchase plastic or clay pots, tubs, half whisky barrels or other containers. But virtually any container that you can cut or punch drainage holes into may be used, such as inexpensive foam ice chests, livestock watering troughs or recycled five-gallon paint buckets. Make at least four holes evenly spaced around the sides at the bottom of the container.
Fill the container with commercial potting mix or potting soil. The level of soil should be 1 or 2 inches below the rim of the container after planting. This is called head space and helps facilitate proper watering.
It’s a good idea to use small bricks or “pot feet” to raise containers off of wood porches or decks. This keeps the drainage water from collecting 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, although root crops must be planted using seeds. Following are some of the vegetables that can be planted now and the minimum size pot to plant them in. The number of plants that can be planted in a container is shown in parentheses and is primarily based on the size of the plant at maturity.
One-gallon container: beets (2 to 3), carrots (3), celery (1), Chinese cabbage (1), collards (1), garlic (2), kohlrabi (1), leeks (1), lettuce (2), mustard greens (2), bunching onion (2 to 3), parsley (1), radish (2 to 3), shallots (2 to 3), spinach (2), Swiss chard (1), turnips (2). You can plant more vegetables in a larger container. For instance, you can plant six turnips in a three-gallon container or 10 turnips in one five-gallon container
Three-gallon container: broccoli (2), cabbage (1 or 2), kale (2).Brussels sprouts (1), cauliflower (1).
Five-gallon container: three or four broccoli, two cabbage or two cauliflower transplants.
Avoid overcrowding vegetables in a container. This is a common mistake. Crowded vegetables are not as productive and may lead to crop failures and increased pest problems. The larger the container, the more vegetables you can plant in it. It’s generally a good idea to choose smaller-growing cultivars or those described as developed for container culture. You can even combine different types of vegetables in the same container.
Check the soil daily and water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Do not allow the vegetable plants to wilt before watering. Always water gently until water runs out of the drainage holes of the container, and avoid wetting the foliage to minimize diseases.
A general-purpose soluble fertilizer – the kind you dissolve in water – applied every two weeks as needed works well for container vegetables. Organic options include fish emulsion, liquid kelp or other fish- or seaweed-based fertilizers. General-purpose slow-release fertilizers can also be used during planting and reduce the need to repeatedly apply soluble fertilizer. Follow label directions for the product you use. Without adequate fertilizer, vegetables take longer to develop and produce less at harvest.
Weeds will occasionally appear in container plantings and should be removed promptly when you see them. Check plants daily and control insects and diseases when needed.
Finally, 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 due to physical limitations, 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.
Vegetables can be grown in an assortment of containers if other options are unavailable. Photo by Dan Gill
5-gallon buckets and larger planters can provide convenient containers for growing vegetables instead of in the soil. Photo by Dan Gill