Container vegetable gardens good for small spaces

Last Updated: 
February 13, 2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you lack the space for a garden but would like to grow some of your food, consider raising vegetables in containers. You can grow just about any vegetable in a container with enough preparation and care.

Both the novice and experienced gardener can find helpful information on container gardens and other gardening essentials in Growing Your Own (PDF), a practical guide to gardening for first-time gardeners, online. Copies of a printed version are at county Extension offices.

"Containers work particularly well in the Willamette Valley, where clay soils do not drain well and remain cold into the spring," according to Gail Langelletto, statewide coordinator of the Master Gardeners program. "If you use containers, which can be just about any size and as casual as old tires, you can garden in any location and move the containers for optimal conditions."

Find a container large enough to support fully grown plants and with enough room for soil to accommodate the plant's root system. The container must have drainage holes.

You can grow vegetables in almost anything, including barrels, flower pots, milk jugs, bleach bottles, window boxes, baskets and cinder blocks. For most plants, containers should be at least six inches deep.

A fairly lightweight potting soil is the best growing medium for container plants; garden soil is too heavy. Most commercial potting mixes, however, are too lightweight and don't offer adequate support for plant roots.

If you buy a potting mix, add soil or compost to provide bulk and weight. Or mix your own with equal parts peat moss or well-rotted compost; loamy garden soil; and clean, coarse builder's sand. Add a slow-acting, balanced fertilizer (slow-release synthetic or organic fertilizers work best) according to container size. Add lime to bring the mixture's pH to around 6.5.

The ideal vegetables for containers take little space, such as carrots, radishes, lettuce and parsley or yield produce over a long period of time such as tomatoes, peppers, herbs and eggplants.

When planting, carefully clean out the container then fill it to within 12 inches of the top with slightly dampened soil mix. Sow the seeds or set transplants. Gently water the soil with warm water, taking care not to wash out the seeds. Label each container with the name and variety of plant and planting date. When seedlings have two or three leaves, thin them for proper spacing between plants.

Water container plants whenever the soil feels dry. Apply water until it begins to run out of the container's drain holes.

Container plants need more fertilizer than plants in regular gardens because the frequent watering constantly leaches fertilizer minerals out of the soil. For best results, start a feeding program for container plants two months after planting. Use a water-soluble fertilizer at its recommended rate of application every two to three weeks.

An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to container soil. Do not add more than the recommended rate of any fertilizer. Too much can harm plant roots.

Watch for and control plant insect pests. Place containers where they will receive maximum sunlight and good ventilation. During periods of high temperatures and bright sunshine, move the containers into shade during the hottest part of the day. Shelter plants from severe rain, hail and wind.

Vegetables and fruit that do well in containers: bush beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, Swiss chard, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, dwarf apple trees, blueberries, strawberries, turnips, eggplant, kale and green onions.

Author: Judy Scott