“Do you believe veggie plants grow and produce as well in large containers as planting straight in the ground?” Question from Donna of Newberry, South Carolina
Answer: It depends. It’s all a matter of plant size, rooting needs, container size, and overall care.
Container Size and Care
Large or standard-sized vegetables do not grow as well in containers because they need more space to reach full potential. Containers also require more upkeep in terms of water and fertilization, so gardeners often lose steam and quit giving them the right care, resulting in poor output.
Soil is another factor. Garden loams have more mineral content and water-holding ability, allowing for better, deeper root growth and development. For this reason, it’s nice to fill large pots with a mix of topsoil and an organic amendment (Example: 1 part topsoil to 3 parts Black Gold Garden Compost Blend). This will increase water-holding ability and add weight to top-heavy pots.
For real growing success with container vegetables, choose the right vegetables. Compact or small plants yield better harvests. For an excellent list of compact vegetables, click here for a recent article on the subject. It covers everything from tiny tomatoes to baby beets and mini melons.
“What is the best produce to plant in containers on a large patio that gets a lot of sun?” Question from Jennifer of Telford, Pennsylvania.
Answer: The key to choosing great vegetables, herbs, and fruits for container gardening is selecting compact varieties and/or planting in containers that are large enough to support your vegetables through the season. Then it’s all about getting your potting soil, fertilizer and watering regime right. I suggest you read our useful article “Succeed with Container Vegetable Gardening“. It covers everything you will need to know to grow a bountiful container vegetable garden, in addition to plant suggestions. But, I’ve added a few more below.
Compact Vegetables and Herbs
The article suggests: “Smalleris generally better when it comes to plant size. When growing in containers, compact varieties are better suited to pot culture. Determinate, or non-vining bush tomatoes, are better than full-vining indeterminate types. Pick classic bush tomato varieties like the red slicers, ‘Mountain Merit‘ and ‘Celebrity‘, both AAS winners.
Other great bushy veggies (that are typically large vines) include little cucumbers, such as ‘Bush Pickle‘, and space-saving squash, such as the small butternut ‘Butterbush‘ and zucchini ‘Fordhook‘.”
Of course, compact peppers, lettuces, bush peas, carrots, and beets are easily grown in pots as well as many compact herbs.
Several melons are short-vined, making them perfect for containers. A good cantaloupe to try is the very compact ‘Minnesota Midget‘, and ‘Bush Sugar Baby‘ is a short-vined watermelon suited to container culture. ‘Little Baby Flower‘ is another somewhat compact watermelon that I grew in a pot last season with great success
Salem, Oregon gardener Harry Olson has taken vertical gardening to new heights, (literally). Harry’s home is on a small city lot and because of space constraints and shade issues from neighboring trees, Harry has, out of necessity, created a vertical garden. This has challenged him to creatively experiment and find innovative ways to maintain a productive edible garden. Many of his methods could easily be modified for gardeners with even less space (a sunny balcony, deck or patio).
Start with Good Soil
Harry starts with good soil, one of the most essential components for any garden. Quality soil is critical for good production, especially where space and light are limited. For edible gardening in small spaces, Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix is great for container growing and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is a super amendment for in-ground gardening. Both products are OMRI Listed for organic gardening and will naturally boost productivity and yields.
Grow Vegetables Creatively
Grafted tomatoes are a favorite of Harry’s because in one container it is possible to have three different varieties. He uses a ‘triple graft’, and one that Harry successfully grew last year was a combination of ‘Sweetheart’ (red, heart-shaped, salad type), ‘Blush’ (golden-orange grape type), and ‘Virginia Sweet’ (red-gold beefsteak type) tomatoes. Harry often extends an invitation to different garden clubs and societies to visit his garden, and he told me that this triple-grafted tomato was the most photographed plant in his garden.
Cucumbers and squash can easily be grown vertically with good support. These substantial vines climb by tendrils, so it is necessary to provide a strong trellis of metal or wood with a wire or string lattice for the tendrils climb. Harry’s simple, compact structure was constructed from a single metal frame with a lattice of strong, taught strings. To further maximize space, he planted the base of the trellis with rosemary, basil, and other sun-loving herbs.
Vines can also be container-grown, if the container is large enough. Harry chose to grow is cantaloupe vertically in a large container fitted with a trellis. To support the heavy fruit and save the vine from breakage, he used pantyhose trusses to hold the fruit. What a good solution!
Harry also relies on pole beans, another easily grown vining crop, that are light and easy to trellis. These summer producers thrive in the heat and start to decline by fall. For a fall crop, he plants vining peas in late summer. They are easy to grow from seed, thrive in the cooler fall weather and often continue producing, even after the first light frost.
Vining edible flowers also have a place in Harry’s city plot. With adequate support, his vining nasturtiums will often reach six feet. An advantage with nasturtiums is that they do not require full sun as compared to the other plants mentioned here. Nasturtiums provide beautiful flowers and all parts of the plant can be eaten. The leaves and stems will give salad a little ‘spice’ and the flowers make a beautiful edible garnish.
Even dwarf fruit trees can be grown in containers. Harry chose columnar apples planted along his fence. These are a good choice because in the last few years columnar apples have become readily available in garden centers. These trees have been developed to set fruit without having another tree for cross pollination, and the columnar structure produces short branches close to the single trunk to maximize space, airflow, and sun exposure. Imagine having your own homegrown apples on your deck or patio!
Growing a vertical garden is probably much easier than one might imagine. Even with the limited space of a balcony, deck or patio, it is possible to have fresh produce throughout the summer with some plants continuing to produce into the fall. Do some experimenting and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.