Try growing veggies in a container

May 02, 2009|By JEFF RUGG / Creators Syndicate

Q: I read your article about gardening and I have a question: Is it necessary to kill the grass first when installing a Square Foot garden?

A: It is a good idea to kill the grass or existing vegetation in some way or another. It can be dug up and removed, sprayed with a plant or grass killer or smothered with newspapers or plastic and the soil mix. The first way is good, but may be too much work. The second uses poisons I try not to use, but in this case am not strictly against. I used the newspaper and mix method. It may not be as perfect as the other methods, but it usually does a pretty good job.

Cover the area under the SFG with a half-dozen sheets and make sure there are no gaps. I also extend the papers out past the boards to make sure grass doesn't creep in from the sides. The papers prevent the grass from growing up to the light long enough that the grass dies before the paper decays.


Another material to use is weed barrier fabric, which most garden centers carry. Plain old plastic is not as good, as it holds too much water in the SFG under the plant roots.

Q: I want to try growing some vegetables this year, but I don't have much space, and I was wondering how well these types of plants grow in pots on a patio.

A: All of the vegetable crops will do fine in a container, but you should choose your pots and varieties carefully. For instance, some types of crops have large-growing types that need lots of room and small-growing varieties that will easily fit on a patio. Look at the seed package or the catalog description and you will often see the term "dwarf variety" or "bush variety" when describing a plant. This is especially true for some of the vines like cucumbers and squash.

The container can be practically anything that can hold soil. Don't use galvanized metal containers because the zinc coating can kill the plants. Don't use dark-colored pots that can absorb heat from the sun and become too hot for the roots. Bigger pots hold more soil and the plants will do better, but bigger pots are harder to move and take up valuable space on the patio.

The pot's drainage holes might need to be lined with newspaper or cloth to not let the soil fall out. It needs drainage holes to let water out. A larger container will be better able to support more than one plant that may be necessary for pollination. A half-barrel can be used to grow two large tomatoes; two bush vines like cucumbers; one hill of pumpkin; or up to six plants of beans, eggplant or peppers. A pot that is one-half to one-quarter the size of a half-barrel can grow one of any of those types of plants. A large hanging basket can be used to hold small varieties of vine crops like beans; peas; and dwarf cucumbers or squash.

To best keep the plant growing within its container's space and not growing all over the patio, you can use a trellis or wire basket. A pair of poles can be attached inside or outside of the barrel or pot and string or wires laced across between them to create a mesh that the plant can grow onto. Many hardware stores carry a wire mesh grid that has sturdy wires spaced about 6 inches apart in both directions. Measure the circumference of your container and get enough wire to wrap around the outside of the container and then staple or nail it to the outside so that it forms a cylinder around the pot. The cylinder can be 6 to 8 feet taller than the top of the pot. You can reach through the holes to plant and to harvest.

The soil can be a soil-less mix from the garden center or a 50-50 mix of the soil-less mix and regular potting or garden soil. If you have problems growing vegetables like tomatoes because of soil-borne diseases, just use the straight soil-less mix. If you are placing the pots on a raised deck or balcony, use the soil-less mix for less weight. Any of these pots can get very heavy when they have been watered. Large wooden pots can have wheels installed on them before planting so that they can be moved around when they are full. Smaller pots can be set on small carts that have wheels so they can be moved and the cart reused on the next plant.

Don't fertilize the plants immediately if the potting soil mix already has added fertilizer listed on the bag. It should include directions on how soon to begin fertilizing. The fertilizer you do use should be a slow-release type to avoid burning the roots. There is often a tendency to over-water and over-fertilize potted plants. Use pots with lots of drain holes and you won't over-water or over-fertilize. Most plants will do well if the soil in the pot dries out for the top few inches before adding more water. If the pot dries out too much and the soil shrinks away from the sides, make sure you add water to the soil slowly so that it retains the water. Otherwise, the water will just run down between the soil and pot and not give water to the plants.

Place the pot on a few rocks or some other items to raise it above the soil or deck surface to keep out many pests and avoid staining the surface. Do not place a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot. It will not aid in draining the pot. You can use a black plastic nursery pot to plant in and then place it into a prettier decorative pot.

You may use vegetable plants in pots with other decorative plants planted around them. Many vegetable crops have attractive and colorful fruit. The vegetable crops in pots will still need the same amount of direct sunlight as vegetables in a garden to produce the best crop. Most of them typically need a minimum of six hours of direct sun, so don't plant a tomato in a pot of shade-loving plants and expect them both to do well.

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