Question: I have very limited space to plant vegetables. Are there some vegetables I can grow in containers on my deck? How soon can I plant them?
Answer: Even apartment dwellers who have a spot with at least six hours of direct sun a day can grow a few vegetables in containers.
Leaf and root vegetables are the easiest to grow in containers or where space is limited. They can be grown in pots as small as 6 inches across. If you pick leaves or stems of leaf lettuce and spinach, plants will produce two or three repeat harvests. Leave an inch of stems to stimulate regrowth. Herbs such as chives, basil, oregano and cilantro can easily be grown in 6-inch pots.
Larger containers such as tubs and half whiskey barrels work well for multiple vegetables or larger plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers. Tower supports or trellises make it possible to use vertical space.
Peas and all the root and leaf vegetables are hardy to frost into the mid-20s and can be planted from seeds or started plants now. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and all the fruiting vegetables can be damaged by frost and should not be planted until late May unless you bring plants inside at night. You can get a head start on tomatoes and other tender plants by bringing plants inside every night. Alternating cool day temperatures and warm night temperatures produce stocky compact plant growth.
Dwarf bush-type varieties of cucumbers, tomatoes and summer squash work best in containers and small spaces. The technical name for bush-type tomatoes is “determinate.”
It is important to use a well-drained container planting mix. Do not try to use ordinary garden soil. Check to see if the mix contains fertilizer.
Coated slow-release fertilizers, such as Osmocote, work best for containers. They release a little fertilizer every time plants are watered and last about three months. Water holding additives can be mixed into the soil so plants do not have to be watered as often.
Fill containers to the rim with loose potting soil. Scatter a few seeds over the soil, and press them in about a quarter to half an inch. When you water, the soil will sink about an inch. Keep the soil moist on top until the seeds sprout. Started plants of many vegetables are also available.
A few fruits and vegetables can also be grown among shrubs and flowers. Strawberries make good ground cover plants. Many vegetables have leaves that are as ornamental as flowers. Beets have attractive red and green leaves. Bright Lights Swiss Chard has leaves with red, pink, yellow and orange variegation. Fern-like carrot leaves are also quite ornamental. Red leaf lettuce is also very ornamental.