Limited space need not limit your garden

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 05:28 AM

Limited growing space doesn’t have to limit you from growing vegetables, herbs and fruits. All you need are sunshine, water, fertilizer, a suitable container with a good growing medium and healthy transplants to successfully grow your own fresh, local and organic food in containers.

The type of container you choose for your garden is limited only by your imagination! The only requirement is that the container provides good drainage through holes in the bottom or around the sides near the bottom.

TIP: A large container will be heavy once filled it is filled with wet potting mix. Move your container to its final location before filling it with potting mix.

Soilless potting mixes are the best choice for container gardens. They are disease and weed free, lightweight, and hold moisture and plant nutrients. Choose a potting mix that contains a good base fertilizer to get your plants off to a good start. For example, our Windcrest Farm Potting Mix contains Certified Organic Peat Moss, Vermiculite, Certified Organic Rice Hulls, Vermicompost, Mary’s Mineral Mix and does not contain animal or vegetable waste, bio-solids, or manures.

Caring For Your Container GardenSun

A minimum of six hours of sunlight per day is required for nearly all vegetables to grow. Fruit bearing plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers require the most sunlight. Leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and other greens will tolerate some shade. Root veggies such as radishes, onions and beets fall between fruit and leaf plants in sun requirements.

Water Your container garden will need adequate water for growth, flower and fruit development and root enlargement. The important things to remember about watering are:

Know the watering requirements for the plant you are growing. Different plants may have different watering needs. For instance herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage like the soil to dry a bit between watering while juicy vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers like to be kept moist with plenty of water.

Check the moisture level of the container before watering. An overcast day may mean you need less water while a windy day may mean extra watering. The surface of the potting soil may look dry but just below the surface it may still be moist. Check the moisture level with your fingers before watering.

Water in the morning. Prepare your plants for the day with a good water breakfast. They will appreciate being well hydrated before the heat of the afternoon!

Water deeply and don’t allow the soil to dry out. Encourage your plants to develop deep roots by watering long enough for water to reach the drainage holes in the bottom of your container. If water runs out of the drainage holes immediately upon watering, chances are the soil has become too dry, pulled away from the sides of the container and is not allowing the water to soak in. If the soil has become too dry, submerge small containers in water to allow the potting mix to rehydrate and poke holes in the soil of larger containers to allow the water to penetrate.

Water the roots, not the leaves. We may like a cool shower on a hot day, but wet leaves on our plants encourage foliar diseases such as mildew and fungus so direct your watering to the soil, not the leaves. Water on the leaves can also act as a magnifying glass and burn the foliage.

Check your containers often. Depending on the weather, the size and type of container and what you are growing, you may need to water more than once a day. Plastic and glazed pots hold moisture longer than a terra cotta pot. Hanging baskets can dry out quickly on a hot and/or windy day. Make it a habit to visit your container gardens in the morning and again in the afternoon to learn which containers will need more than one watering a day.

Feeding the soil that feeds the plant that feeds you Container gardens require fertilization more frequently than field grown plants because they have less area to hold nutrients. Start with a good, nutrient rich potting mix and apply a diluted liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion and/or compost tea once a week.

Vertical gardening Container grown vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and beans will need help to keep their vines contained and their branches supported. Providing structures to train your plants upwards not only helps support growing plants but also increases your growing area. Vertical gardening keeps plants at eye-level and makes it easier to spot pests, prune plants and harvest fruits and vegetables. Air can circulate around the plants easier, which means less mildew and fungal diseases.

Choose the type and size of support structure based on the type of plants you are growing. Commonly used structures include trellises, pyramids or tripods, arches and arbors, gazebos, walls, fences, and wire cages. Even a hanging basket can be thought of as a vertical gardening container! Make sure you anchor your support structure securely before planting!

Mary Roberts and Ray Tarlton are owners and managers of  Windcrest Farm, a USDA Certified Organic farm and greenhouse in Monroe, NC . Visit for more information about plants, produce and classes. All photos taken at Windcrest Farm unless otherwise noted.