“I am starting a container garden for onions, potatoes, and carrots. I will be using the Black Gold potting mix plus fertilizer. Will I have to add any other product to the potting mix? Thank you.” Dennis of Thaxton, Virginia
Potted vegetables grow best in large containers filled with excellent potting soil, like our Black Gold mixes, and quality fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Be sure that the containers drain well, and keep them evenly moist. Full sun exposure is a requirement. This is about all that you need. Thin your carrot as they grow, and space your onions and potatoes well. I also recommend that you read these articles about growing edibles in containers. We have many, many more on the site.
“I will be planting shrubs in containers. Which potting mix between Fafard and Black Gold would be the best choice and longest lasting? I would prefer something more permanent so as to not have to change out the potting mix every few years. I live in zone 7. Thank you for your response.” Question from Mel of Atlanta, Georgia
Answer: When recommending the best soil for potted shrubs that will be there for the long term, I always suggest filling the pots with 1/3 quality topsoil or ground soil and 2/3 quality potting mix. Mix the two evenly before filling the pots. I like to add ground soil because potting mixes tend to acidify over time, and ground soil, which is primarily inorganic, helps buffer the acidification process, and it will not break down and shrink over time. You might also consider adding some other ingredients, such as sand or pebble, depending on the shrubs grown. Finally, be sure to refresh the pot with new potting mix seasonally. The addition of dolomitic lime can also reduce acidification.
With that said, I would choose the following mixes for long-term potted shrubs.
Feed your shrubs seasonally in the spring with a slow-release fertilizer. It is also important to note that potted shrubs are most apt to survive winter if they are at least two zones hardier than your zone because they are more exposed.
“Can watermelon vines be grown in containers?” Question from George of Hagerstown, MD
Answer: Watermelons can be grown in large containers if you choose a compact variety. Here are my recommendations regarding potted watermelon culture.
Growing Potted Watermelons
First, choose a more compact, short-vine watermelon variety suited for container growing. ‘Cal Sweet Bush‘, a 2019 AAS award winner, has excellent melons and vines that do not take over, and ‘Bush Sugar Baby‘ is another small-vined type with tasty melons. Next, choose a large container that’s between 18 to 24 inches. There must be holes at the bottom for drainage. Plastic or glazed containers hold water better in the heat of summer. Fill the pot with quality, porous potting soil that holds water well. I would choose Black Gold Natural & Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix. Place the pot in a spot where it gets full sun, and the vining stems can hang down and spread a little. Patios or open garden areas work well for large potted vegetables like this.
Plant one or two watermelons in the pot in spring after the threat of frost has passed. Keep the soil moist. When the vines have reached a good size in summer, water daily in the absence of rain. Fertilizer well from the beginning. A good slow-release fertilizer formulated for vegetables is ideal. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s application instructions.
Melons should start to appear by late July or August.
“I’m in a complex where we can only plant in containers outside…and there’s a lot of shade to complicate matters…any idea for some plants that would do well contained without a lot of sun? Thank you…also someone told me the ivy I did plant in a pot can be brought inside for a houseplant when it gets too cold outside true or not?” Question from Kim of Orangeburg, New York
Answer: There are lots and lots of wonderful annuals that thrive in shady locations. The perennial vine, English Ivy (Hedera helix), can grow in pots inside or out, and it will take shade, but there are many better options for shade containers. Here are some of my favorite shade-loving annual garden flowers for summer potted gardens.
Annuals for Shady Container Gardens
Begonias: You can’t go wrong with begonias, as long as you provide them with good moisture, especially through the hottest summer days. Two showy high performers are Bossa Nova®RedBegonia and Illumination®Golden Picotee tuberous begonia. Classic wax begonias that you can purchase in flats at every garden center are also inexpensive and excellent.
Classic Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana): Pick up a flat of colorful impatiens at your favorite garden center, and plant them in shady pots for summer-long color. (Impatiens are also easy to start from seed! Click here to learn more.)
New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hybrids): These impatiens are generally taller and tolerant of a little more sun than classic impatiens. the tangerine-orange Infinity®Orange is especially pretty as is the crimson-pink and pale pink Infinity®Blushing Crimson.
Torenia (Torenia hybrids): You cannot go wrong with any of the spreading torenia in the Summer Wave Series. They spread and bloom all summer long. Summer Wave®Large Blueis really lovely.
“Hi — I just transplanted tomato starts from the bathtub to larger containers and used Black Gold All Purpose for much of it. I had one bag of All Purpose and one of Natural, Organic. I noticed that the All Purpose has more fertilizer in it. The Natural Organic has less, but it is natural and organic. Still, I’m thinking I should generally use the All Purpose — because it seems like the transplanted tomatoes have really benefited from the fertilizer in it (more than they might benefit from what’s in the Natural/Organic). What’s your perspective? I don’t think it’s my imagination that the tomato starts to look quite a bit better after transplanting into the All Purpose. I’m just not sure if they’ll do roughly equally well in the Natural and Organic Potting Soil. There’s less fertilizer. I don’t see the differences clearly yet with my starts for reasons that I won’t bore you with. Please advise. :-)” Question from Steve of Bow, Washington
Answer: The Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix contains supplemental fertilizer to feed plants for up to six months, while Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil contains no added fertilizer. That’s why you saw better growth in the seedlings planted in the All Purpose, but both are good choices for potted vegetable growing. I would also add that tomatoes are very heavy feeders, so I recommend adding fertilizer that is specially formulated for tomatoes anyway. There are loads of fertilizer options for tomatoes on the market.
“What is the best potting mix for Meyer lemon tree in a plastic pot? Needs to drain well.” Question from Polly of New Mexico
Answer: We offer several good-fit mixes. Before potting your tree, make sure that the new pot is several inches larger than the old and that it offers excellent bottom drainage. The ideal potting soil should have a balance of good porosity, drainage, and water-holding ability. Ideally, it should be slightly acid, because Meyer lemons grow best in soils with a pH of 6-7. Here are our best OMRI Listed soils for your tree.
Potted citrus trees require a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight a day to perform well. Warm growing conditions (60 – 75 degrees F) and moderate humidity (45 – 50%) will encourage flowering and fruiting. Bringing plants outdoors in summer, on a sunny porch or patio, helps them grow better year-round.
Good watering, feeding, and care practices will keep your plant happy. Water plants deeply until the water drains from the bottom of the pot. Allow pots to become moderately dry between watering–the tops should be dry down to a minimum of 3 inches. (Outdoor plants may need to be watered almost daily, while indoor plants require less frequent water.) During the winter months, when growth naturally slows, the watering regime should be reduced. Signs of overwatering include leaf yellowing and drop and eventually stem death. Trees allowed to become too dry may also unexpectedly drop some leaves.
Fertilization is essential, any slow-release fertilizer formulated for citrus would be ideal.
Vegetable gardening is on the rise. Gardeners of all experience levels and backgrounds are growing their own food, whether they live in urban environments or spacious suburbs and countrysides. Those living where space is limited have extra challenges, which means that they must garden differently to produce enough food to enjoy all season. Here are some of the ways that we have used to grow fresh food where space and sunshine are at a premium.
Plant in Spacious Pots
If you have a sunny balcony or patio with just enough space for a couple of pots, choose the largest, deepest pots that will fill the space. Large containers (22 to 24 inches minimum) Let gardeners grow more produce, and they have deeper reservoirs for soil and water to encourage more root growth and reduce the need to water as often. The pots must have good drainage and be filled with a quality mix, such as Black Gold® Natural and Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix. A couple of large pots, or one long, deep raised pot, will be vastly more productive than several smaller ones, so go big! (Click here for more tips on growing potted vegetables.)
Gardeners with a little more space, like a small, sunny rear patio or yard, should consider growing one or more vertical gardens. Clever vertical planters are being designed to allow lots of vegetables to be grown in a small space. There are also plenty of DIY vertical garden designs to consider if you are the creative type. Whether you choose a premade product or go for a less expensive make-your-own vertical garden, make sure that the design allows for easy irrigation, holds enough soil for plants to grow well, and will last for a long time.
Smaller vegetables and fruits are made for container growing, so choose varieties better suited to pot culture. This includes non-vining bush tomatoes, such as ‘Mountain Merit‘ and ‘Celebrity‘, both AAS winners. The tiny, cute cherry tomato Tempting Tomatoes® Patio Sunshine is another excellent choice. These are just a few of the many quality little tomatoes available. Tiny bush basils are fun to grow at the base of potted tomatoes. Windowbox Mini from Renee’s Garden Seeds is a superior little basil that’s very easy to start from seed.
There are plenty of other compact bush vegetables, such as ‘Bush Pickle‘ cucumber, the little butternut ‘Butterbush‘, and compact zucchini ‘Fordhook‘. If you like melons, the compact ‘Minnesota Midget‘ cantaloupe and short-vined watermelon ‘Bush Sugar Baby‘ both grow well sprawling from a large pot. Strawberries of all types are great for pots. The beautiful Berried Treasure® strawberries, with their double pink, red, or white blossoms, also yield delicious sweet berries through summer.
Some vegetables and fruits grow beautifully in large hanging baskets. As with the pots, go big to minimize watering and maximize performance. The best vegetables for hanging are cascaders, such as compact tomatoes, strawberries, dwarf cucumbers, and peppers. The new, compact Pot-a-Peño jalapeño pepper is ideal for hanging baskets. This variety is also a 2021 AAS award winner, so it is sure to perform well.
Rotate Potted Vegetables
Vegetable gardening is a dynamic process. Gardeners have to shift from cool-season spring vegetables to warm-season summer vegetables back to cool-weather crops. In between, smart gardeners rotate their crops to continue the harvest and encourage garden health. Plan to harvest and plant, harvest and plant until fall to boost your garden’s yields and diversity of crops. Seasonal planting and rotation keep soil diseases and pests from taking hold. (Click here to learn more about rotating vegetables.)
Maintain to Maximize Production
Place containers and gardens where they get maximum sunlight. Eight hours a day or more is recommended. Start with great soil that holds water well, has ample air space, and drains well. Black Gold®Natural & Organic Potting Mix is ideal for growing all types of vegetables in containers and it is OMRI Listed® for organic gardening. It’s wise to add a little Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend 0.8-0.0-0.0, which is rich in nitrogen, to pots with greens and herbs. Change a pot’s soil every two to three years because peat-based potting mixes break down, lose structure, and acidify over time.
Fertilize regularly to encourage the best growth and production. Lots of vegetables are “heavy feeders”, which means they deplete nutrients from the soil fast. Apply a slow-release fertilizer formulated for vegetable gardening at the start of the season. For heavy feeders, like tomatoes, follow up with applications of a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for vegetables. This is especially important to do just before the fruits develop.
Lack of water is the main cause of container vegetable failure. During the hottest days of summer, daily water will likely be needed, especially if your pots are in the full, hot sun. At watering time, water until its starts to run out of the pot drain holes. This indicates that the container is saturated. Thorough watering encourages deeper root development and stronger, more stable plants.
My first spring salad pots were grown in large, inexpensive plastic containers that I bought from the garden center. I filled them with some Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix and added a little fertilizer. They performed so well that I couldn’t believe it. Just a few pots provided delicious salads through spring, so this year I decided to redo this year’s salad containers with a little more flair.
I took it up a notch by creating suites of well-paired greens and herbs for custom-made salad containers–one with an Asian theme, another French, and the last for the Italian palate. Large (18″ or 24″) pots are ideal for these plantings. This will ensure that you can plant enough vegetables in each pot to make several spring salad bowls. As I said, I planted mine in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, but this year I plan to try Black Gold Raised Bed & Planting Mix. Both mixes are OMRI Listed for organic gardening. My plant food of choice is a slow-release fertilizer for vegetable growing, though I often hit my plants with some water-soluble fertilizer a week after planting to help them take off.
About the blend – This is a two-pot salad mix because Chinese cabbages are bulky. I am confident that the outcome will be worthy of a very tasty sesame salad dressing. The crisp, flavorful Chinese cabbage will combine nicely with the mustardy kick of the mizuna, the mild green-onion flavor of the bunching scallions along with the crunchy, sweet taste and bright color of the red romaine.
Planting tips– I recommend filling one pot with three Chinese cabbage heads with a sprinkling of mizuna around the exterior. Another pot can contain the romaine with scallions planted along the side. Be sure to space the scallions 2-3 inches apart. I always start cabbage, scallions, and lettuce plants indoors several weeks before planting outdoors. I start the seeds in 4-inch pots under grow lights. (Click here for growing tips.) Then I acclimate my seedlings to cool spring temperatures in my enclosed back porch. Scallions are often tender and slender at planting time, so be gentle with them and don’t plant their bulbs too deeply. One-half inch is perfect. The mizuna is a mustard green that can directly be sown in the pots at the time when you plant your seedlings–generally in late March or early April in my USDA Hardiness Zone 7 garden.
About the blend -The sweetness of the snap peas and butter lettuce blend well with the slight heat of the fresh French breakfast radishes. Chervil is added to provide a fresh, slightly anise flavor–much like the flavor of fennel. Together they taste very excellent with a classic French dijon vinegarette. If you are not partial to uncooked snap peas, try blanching them for a minute and then immersing them in an ice-water bath.
Planting tips– I recommend three large pots for this salad blend–one for the peas (a tomato cage makes an easy pea trellis), one for the radishes, and one for the butter lettuce with two chervil plants on the side. It is best to start the chervil and lettuce indoors under grow lights, as recommended for the greens above. The radishes and peas can be directly sown in the pots. Surface-sow the radish seeds and cover them with 1/8 inch of potting mix. Plant them in circular rows 6 inches apart and then thin them to 3 inches apart after they have sprouted. The peas should be planted in a circle at a distance of 3 inches apart and 1 inch below the soil surface. Time everything well, keeping in mind that the peas and greens need more time than the fast-growing radishes.
About the blend – The bitter bite of the chicory tastes nice with the sweet crunch of the romaine lettuce and sweetness of the baby beets. Chioggia beets are candy-striped with red and white bands inside, so they are as beautiful as they are delicious. The three taste very good with honey balsamic vinegarette and shaving of Parmesan cheese.
Planting tips– Two large pots are sufficient for this salad blend–one for the chicory and romaine lettuce, and one for the beets. The lettuce and chicory can be started as seedlings indoors, using the same recommendations for the two previous gardens. The beets should be directly sown in the pots. Keep in mind that the beets may germinate more slowly in cool weather, so you may want to plant them a week earlier than recommended on the packet.
To learn more about great lettuce varieties, please watch this helpful video!
By February, I am longing for some beauty when I look out of the window. It’s the worst month of the year here in the Midwest, with its dead and bleak outdoors. So, now’s the time I start dreaming of the flower beds and containers for the coming year. This year I plan to focus on cascading Begonias for my shade pots, window boxes, and hanging baskets, and there are several excellent choices.
Cascading begonias are derived from several different species and begonia groups, but all of them have one thing in common, cascading habits and beautiful flowers. The tender plants have succulent foliage and thrive if given regular water, well-drained soil, and season-long fertilization. Here are those that I plan to grow at my own home this year.
Angel wings are cane-type begonias, which means that they develop tough, almost bamboo-like stems called canes (click here to learn more about cane begonias). Their pretty wing-shaped leaves may be green, bronze, silver, or deep rose, and some are marked with lighted dots or stripes. The flowers appear in clusters over the leaves and come in shades of white, pink, orange, or red. Standard angel wing begonias can become quite tall (4 feet or more), without pruning, and are best reserved for large containers. To prune, cut back any tall or leggy stems at a leaf node.
The new variety called ‘My Special Angel‘ looks especially promising with its pink flower clusters and bold, beautifully speckled leaves. ‘Whimsy‘ is similar but has darker speckled leaves. Expect both to reach between 1 to 3 feet without pruning. Another exceptional variety is the bold, large-leaved, salmon-flowered ‘Snow Cap‘, whose leaves are olive-green and speckled heavily with silver.
Dragon Wing Begonias
Dragon wing begonias are also cane-types, but they are shorter, more compact, and better for hanging baskets. Most will cascade to 30 inches or less. Their leaves and flowers are equally as showy and diverse but often smaller. I have been wondering what to put in my large shaded baskets, and a dragon wing, such as Proven Winners® Dragon Wing® Red or Dragon Wing® Pink, would be perfect. Each has glossy green leaves and colorful, drooping flower clusters. They will look gorgeous. The plants are self-cleaning and should not require pruning.
Pendulous Tuberous Begonias
My favorite cascading begonias are pendulous begonias (Begonia pendula hybrids). They are best known for large, spectacular, single or double flowers, in many shades of red, rose, pink, yellow, ivory, and apricot, which cascade to 15 inches or more. Most reach 8 to 12 inches high. The double flowers look like roses! The plants are so impressive that I have ordered three this year, so my shade containers are going to be all begonias this year. One of the prettiest is the outstanding Belgian hybrid, ‘Double Apricot’. You can also try the beautiful varieties in the Illumination® Series, which can be grown from seed. (Always start begonia seeds as early as January to get them to planting size by May.) Illumination® White and Orange are especially resplendent.
Pendulous begonias are tuberous, so you can most commonly buy them as easy-to-plant tubers or as plants. Often the plants sold at garden centers are small, so you can put three of them in one large basket or pot.
Hummingbird-pollinated Bolivian begonias (Begoniaboliviensis hybrids) have entirely different flowers than most other begonias. Each has five long petals, which form a single elongated flower. The green leaves are narrow and pointed. The stems hang at least 20 inches over the side of the container and can stand 1-3 feet high, depending on the variety. These are most commonly sold as plants, but they may also be purchased as tubers. Santa Cruz® is an exceptional form with orange-red flowers. Several pretty hybrid mixes with many-colored flowers are also available. This is a small taste of the numerous varieties out there.
Planting Cascading Begonias
Begonias do best in shade but will tolerate partial sun–between 2-4 hours per day. As stated above, these begonias may be tuberous or have fibrous roots. Tubers need to be planted root-side down (often with the hollow-side up) and only 1.5 inches deep. If small, pink buds are already emerging from the tubers, take care not to damage them, and plant with them facing upwards. Apply a continuous-release fertilizer at planting time. Begonias like organic-rich soil that is well-drained, such as Black Gold Ultra Coir Potting Soil. Be cautious not to overwater pots because this can lead to tuber or root rot. You can start growing them indoors to give them a head start for planting outside in late spring.
These begonias have gotten me excited about my potted flower garden plans. Now I’m really looking forward to spring!
“I have full sun for the majority of the day at my home. I’m wanting to put up a window box on the front of my house, but I’m not sure what plants would succeed. Help is appreciated! Thank you!” Question from Melissa of Ludington, Michigan
Answer: There are lots of great plants for sunny window boxes. Good options do not get too tall or wide and grow and flower well in small spaces. For design purposes, plant them in contrasting combinations with bushy and trailing or spilling plants in complementary colors. Annuals are most often favored for window boxes. Here are some that will grow beautifully in Michigan.
Favorite Sunny Window Box Bushy Bloomers
Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia hybrids). Choose these heat-lovers for sunny window boxes. They will even take some drought. Some of the newer summer snapdragons, like those in the Angelface® Cascade Series, are a bit more compact, making them better suited for window boxes.
Bidens (Bidens hybrids): These heat-loving annuals generally have yellow or orangish-red daisy-like flowers. Most varieties keep on flowering until fall.
Bedding Geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids): Old-fashioned geraniums need to be deadheaded, but they are classic window box plants that keep looking great until frost. I love cherry-red varieties, but you can also find them with white, pink, salmon, orange, or orange-red blooms.
Petunias and Calibrachoa (Petunia and Calibrachoa hybrids): Go to any garden center, and you will find loads of petunias and calibrachoa. Vista Petunias and Superbells Calibrachoa are my favorites. They bloom beautifully from summer to fall and trail nicely in containers.
Dichondra Silver Falls™ (Dichondra argenteaProven Accents®Silver Falls™): Here is one of the easiest, prettiest, most drought-tolerant spillers that you can grow. Its trailing stems of pure silver cannot be beaten.
Mexican Hair Grass (Nasella tenuissima): Plant this fine, fountain-shaped, airy grass to add height and spill to containers.
Ornamental Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas ornamental hybrids): There are loads of compact, trailing ornamental sweet potatoes that really light up containers. Two great, compact options are the bright green Sweet Caroline Medusa™ Green and variegated green, white, and pink Tricolor.
Bacopa (Sutera cordata hybrids): These small-leaved, trailing annuals have small, pretty flowers of white or lavender-pink. Of the white-flowered varieties, Snowstorm®Giant Snowflake® has the largest flowers and a great spilling habit.