DALY: If you lack space for a vegetable garden, consider using containers

Since the danger of frost has passed, now is the time to start planting the summer vegetable garden. Unfortunately, many people do not have enough room for a large vegetable garden. However, the use of containers is an easy alternative if you lack the space. They can be placed just about anywhere as long as they receive at least eight hours of sunlight a day. They can be just as productive as growing vegetables in a traditional garden.

Many types of vegetables can be grown in containers. Those that require minimal space are the best. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, greens, radishes, and most herbs do well in containers. The taller vegetables will need to be planted in larger containers. These plants should be staked to prevent them from falling over.

A variety of containers are available, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Bushel baskets, drums, gallon cans, tubs and wooden boxes can be used. Different materials, including wood, clay and ceramic can be used as containers. Regardless of the type of container, it should be large enough to support the vegetables at their mature size. Larger containers are easier to maintain and do not dry out as quickly as smaller ones. The containers need to have a few holes in the bottom for drainage.

Avoid using existing garden soil because it can become compacted in the container and not drain properly. Also, it can be a source of diseases, insects and weeds. The best medium for containers is soilless potting mixes. It provides adequate drainage but has sufficient water retention to keep the roots uniformly moist. Mix into the medium an all-purpose fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, or a slow-release fertilizer. Plant the seeds or transplants and then water thoroughly.

The most important component of container gardening is ensuring the plants have adequate water. Containers dry out quicker since they are above ground and the relative volume of soil is small. Check the containers every day to see if they need water. Apply water until it runs out of the drainage holes on the bottom. Raise the containers off the ground by placing them on wooden blocks or bricks to improve drainage. Avoid getting the leaves wet when applying water to prevent the development of plant diseases.

Harvest the vegetables when they reach their mature size. Dispose of the old vegetable plants as well as the soil at the end of the growing season.

Even with have limited space, growing vegetables in containers can be quite rewarding. If given proper care, they will provide a bountiful harvest.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.