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Growing Vegetables in Containers

Planting and Maintaining the Crop

Regardless of the size of your garden, there's always room for some container-grown vegetables on a deck or patio.  In many cases, these outdoor spaces receive the best sunlight in the yard so they are often the best places to mature a tomato or eggplant crop.  Here are some general guidelines for container gardening and some suggestions for crops to try.

Use pots large enough to accommodate the mature plant because you'll sacrifice productivity if you don't give the roots room to spread.  Many varieties will need a 5-gallon container for each plant.  Peppers and cherry tomato plants can be grown in 12-inch pots.  Side drainage holes are preferable to bottom holes which can easily get clogged.  Raising the container off the ground will help improve drainage.  To keep mature plants from toppling over, the pot should be at least 1/3 as deep as the plant is high.

Use a sterilized, commercial potting mix rather than garden soil to fill your containers.

Check the containers daily because during hot weather they can dry out quickly.  The commonly recommended method of determining when to water is to stick your finger into the soil to your second knuckle, and if it's dry at that depth, it's time to water.  That technique may work fine for clay pots that evaporate water evenly throughout the pot, but plastic and wooden pots can have a dry layer on top and moist conditions below where the roots are.  With these types of pots, it's better to push a pencil or popsicle stick down into the soil.  If the soil sticks to the pencil after you pull it our, it's moist enough. If it comes up clean, the soil needs water.

Carrots

Use a diluted liquid fertilizer about every third time you water, to provide a constant supply of nutrients to the roots of your plants.  It's wise to flush the salts out of the containers every month or so to prevent salt buildup and subsequent burning of roots and leaves.  To do this, simply water the container until water comes out the drainage holes.  Wait five minutes, then repeat the process. 

Try These Container Vegetables:

You can imagine how well cherry tomatoes are suited to container culture.  Burpee's "Tumbler Hybrid" or the variety "Tiny Tim" are also well suited to 12 inch pots.  Even larger full-size tomato plants can be grown in containers, such as plastic 25 to 30 gallon garbage cans.  (Avoid the tin models because they heat up and can leach toxic metals.)  After planting 2 plants per container in soil-less potting mix, wrap the container with a section of 8 foot tall steel reinforcing wire that has 6 inch openings (to allow easy access.)  (Measure the circumference of your pot first, and add about 6 inches for overlap.   Most pots need a piece about 8 feet long.)  Hold the ends in place with small wire ties and secure the wire with tow 8 -feet -tall steel fence posts or where plants receive at lease 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
If you've had trouble in the past growing peppers in your garden, try growing them in containers.  One plant will grow well in a 12-inch-wide container, peppers grown this way allows you to control the soil content (reducing the chance of your peppers being killed by disease in your garden's soil); and sunniest location.  Later in the fall, your ability to move the container  can help you avoid cold temperatures and even frost.
If you love to grow hot peppers, consider growing them in containers.  Hot pepper types, such as habanero and serano, and even "False Alarm Hybrid", which offers rich jalapeno flavour with the fire, as well suited to containers.  fill a 5-gallon container with potting soil and plant one pepper per pot.  Keep the plant well watered and fertilized, and you'll be eating peppers all summer and fall.
Cucumbers love the warm soil a container provides, so you can plant earlier in spring and harvest longer into the fall.  It's easier to keep an eye on the demanding water needs of cucumbers when they're grown in pots on a deck or patio close to the house.  Choose bush varieties, such as "Bush Champion", that produce both male and female flowers (or you'll have flowers but no fruit.)
Radishes, carrots, and beets can thrive in containers.  Mix them with other vegetables to provide a little shade during the hot afternoons.
Don't forget the herbs.  Many--like parsley, cilantro, chives, basil, thyme, and sage--grow well in a container, such as a one-half whiskey barrel.  Ensure that your half barrel has adequate drainage holes.
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