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The Best Times

Eating fresh is outside the door

February 24, 2021

By Dennis Patton

Container garden

When it comes to a healthy diet, the current trends are eating seasonal produce, locally grown, and farm-to-table.

The importance of adding fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables in our diets is widely known. Now more than ever, people want to learn more about the food they consume and if there are any added preservatives or pesticides. It is easy to know what is in your food when you grow your own fruits and vegetables.

Think it is a lot of work? Think again. Using containers for vegetable gardening is a relatively simple and rewarding way of putting food on your table.

Container gardening is not a new concept. Colorful containers can be found on porches and patios in practically every neighborhood. They have been successful in the past and we know the basics for this spot of color.

While flowers have been at home in a pot, we think of vegetables as only grown in the ground. The concept of plant care is no different with vegetables. All it takes is a container, quality soil, a little fertilizer and water and soon you will be eating local, very local.

Need for quality sunlight

The primary difference between flowers and vegetables is the need for quality sunlight. Flower species are available from sun to shade, but vegetables require lots of sunlight. Crops producing leafy growth, like lettuce and spinach, may survive on a few hours of daylight. Vegetables producing fruit, the most popular crops of tomatoes, peppers and green beans, need at least six hours of full sun.

Because of this requirement, vegetable containers may need to be relocated into spots around the landscape. Traditionally, we place containers on the patio for ease of care. Patios are often shady for our enjoyment. Save the shadier patio for flowers and situate the containers in sunny locations. Sunlight is your key to success.

Container gardening does require a pot to hold the soil for developing roots and growth. The requirement of a suitable pot is a drainage hole and large enough to maintain a mass of soil for plant growth. Plants don’t care what the pot looks like, we do. Containers can be decorative or merely functional.

Functional containers usually cost less. Recycled nursery pots, often free from a local garden center, is one such option. Trending now are container fabric bags, referred to as grow bags. Made from landscape fabric they come in a variety of sizes. They may not look the best, but they do the job, nonetheless.

Proper soil is necessary for success. The best media for container gardens is a soilless mix. Soilless mixes contain no soil or dirt from the yard. Instead, these growing mediums are mixes of peat moss, pine bark, coconut coir, perlite or vermiculite. These combinations are designed to have excellent water retention while providing air space needed for root growth.

Soilless mixes for containers are readily available on the market. They can be more costly but are used for multiple growing seasons. Think of quality soil as an investment for success.

Another key to success in container gardening is applying even moisture to the pot. This reduces stress on the plants. There is not a set schedule or manual for how often to water. How much and how often will depend on soil mix, plants, sun exposure and other factors. The good news is with proper drainage and quality potting mix, it is almost impossible to overwater.

Size of container

A question I frequently receive is how big the container should be. My philosophy is to go big or go home. The larger the containers, the greater the rewards. Tomatoes and peppers will need at least a 5- to 7-gallon container. Depth much greater than a foot is not necessary as roots may not grow deeply.

Once the depth is achieved, width is more important as additional plants can be planted in the container for a larger harvest. Tall skinny pots are not ideal for vegetables. The larger the pot, the more fresh fruits and vegetables you can grow. Another benefit of a larger pot is it will need to be watered less frequently.

The best way to start is to just jump in. Once you determined you have the sunlight needed, then you are ready to go. It does not take a green thumb, and we are never too old to learn. Besides, Extension is here to help. Our gardening hotline can assist by calling 913-715-7050 or email at [email protected].

We’ve got your back and want you to succeed. Join in on the eat local movement by growing your own fresh produce.

Dennis Patton is horticulture agent at the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office.