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University of Minnesota Extension

Container gardening

May 11, 2021

As the days get longer many people are out in their gardens while others long for that option. If you don’t have the space for a garden, a landlord that doesn’t allow a garden space or you don’t have the physical capability to garden in the traditional sense; it can be frustrating. However, there is still an option, container gardening! A windowsill, patio, balcony, or doorstep can provide sufficient space for a productive garden. 

Nearly all vegetables that will grow in a traditional garden will also do well as a container-grown plant if given the proper amount of space and care.  When choosing plants for a container environment choose varieties that are developed for container culture.  When you are at your garden center, ask or look for seeds and plants that are labeled “bush type,” “compact,” or “container plant.” If you have sufficient space you can also try pole beans, cucumbers and melons.  These vining crops can be grown on a trellis.

Just about anything can become a container for growing vegetables, as long as it has drainage holes, can hold soil, and won’t disintegrate during the course of the growing season.  Try using bushel baskets, gallon cans, wash tubs, wooden boxes or just buckets. Be sure that whatever pot or container you choose has a drainage hole in the bottom or can have one or more holes drilled.  A pot or container that does not drain well is a death trap for your plants. Pots from 6 to 10 inches in diameter work well for green onions, lettuce and herbs.  A 5-gallon container is the most suitable for vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, cucumbers and summer squash with one plant per container.  

There are two types of potting mixtures available for your container garden, soil-based and soilless.  A soil-based medium will include garden loam, organic matter and sand as the primary ingredients.  Soilless mixtures are usually composed of peat moss, vermiculite, ground bark and perlite.  These soilless mixtures are well suited to container gardening because they are sterile and weed free.  They are also lightweight and hold moisture while draining well.  However, they contain little or no nutrients and require the use of a slow-release fertilizer or the frequent application of a water-soluble fertilizer.  

Watering can be the biggest challenge after your containers have been planted.  Containers can dry out quickly, and in hot, sunny spots you may need to water daily.  Check the soil moisture frequently by pushing your index finger into the soil up to the second joint.  If it feels dry, it’s time to water.  It is important to soak the soil deeply, so add water until it flows out the drainage holes.  Water in the morning so that the foliage of the plants has a chance to dry before evening to help discourage fungal diseases.  

Nearly all vegetable plants will grow best in full sunlight.  Leafy crops such as lettuce, cabbage, spinach and parsley can tolerate more shade than root crops such as radishes, beets, turnips and onions.  Crops that bear fruit like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and melons require at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day.  A great advantage of growing vegetables in containers is that the containers can be moved to areas where they receive the best possible light. If you plan to move your container regularly, consider getting a base with wheels. 

If you would like more information about growing container vegetables, you can contact your local Extension Educator or extension.umn.edu. Stearns, Benton and Morrison County residents can call 320-255-6169 ext. 1 or email wins0115@umn.edu

Katie Drewitz, Extension educator – Horticulture, Small Farms and Local Foods
University of Minnesota Extension - Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties
320-255-6169 ext. 1; wins0115@umn.edu

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