Container gardening offers a great opportunity to experiment with gardening on a small scale. If you are a novice gardener who craves the sweet taste of tomatoes warm off the vine, this is the method for you. Cherry and grape tomatoes are ideal plants to try in containers. You can have a complete salad garden in containers just outside your kitchen door. Almost any plant that will grow in a traditional backyard garden will do well in containers with proper preparation.
Container gardening is convenient and can be a beautiful addition to your landscaping. Your choice of containers is limited only by your imagination and the specific varieties of vegetables you want to grow. Along with tomatoes, you can grow peppers, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes, and herbs in containers.
Containers for vegetable plants must (1) be big enough to support the plants when they are fully grown, (2) hold soil without spilling, (3) have adequate drainage, and (4) never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people. Your actual choice of containers can range from standard plastic pots, to sophisticated concrete urns, to an old leather boot. Larger plants may require heavy and strong pot materials to keep from blowing over or to keep the roots from breaking the pot. Some suggestions: barrels, flowerpots, cut-off milk and bleach jugs, recycled styrofoam coolers, window boxes, baskets lined with plastic (with holes punched in it for drainage), or even pieces of pipe or cinder blocks. Have fun with your containers!! Don't forget hanging planters...
Soil for containers must (1) be a fairly lightweight potting mix so the containers can be moved as needed, and (2) be porous in order to support plant, because roots require both air and water. For large containers, buying prepackaged soil might be expensive. Instead try making your own using one part peat moss, one part garden loam (soil), and one part clean coarse (builder's) sand.
Watering regularly is crucial to successful container gardening. Generally one watering per day is enough, except during extremely hot spells. Then you would need to water in the morning and check in late afternoon to see if the soil is dry. If so, water again thoroughly. The soil should never be soggy or have water standing on it. Mulching your plants can help with water retention in the heat of summer.
Fertilizing goes right along with watering properly. A suggested mix is made by dissolving 2 cups of a complete (organic!!) fertilizer such as 10-20-10, 12-24-12, or 8-16-8 in 1 gallon of warm tap water. From this you will make the solution you will actually pour around your plants daily: mix 2 tablespoons of the base solution in 1gallon of water. Use this to water your plants once a day starting the day you set them out. About once a week, leach all the unused fertilizer from your soil mix by watering with just water.
Note: If you are starting your plants from seeds in your containers, apply only plain water until the seeds germinate and the plants emerge. Then you can begin using your nutrient solution.
General care for vegetables grown in containers is convenient and simple. Inspect your plants for pests. Most can be picked off by hand. For aphids, you can mix a teaspoon of dish soap and a tablespoon of cooking oil in a spray bottle, then fill the bottle with water. Shake before use and spray the upper and undersides of the leaves. Hint: If you see ants all over your plant, it is likely that you have aphids. The ants are attracted to the sweet fluids excreted by the tiny aphids.
Protect your plants from extremely high heat caused by light reflection from pavement. Move them to a cool spot or shade them during the hottest part of the day. You can also raise them off the pavement on recycled pallets or other structures that will allow air movement beneath the pots and prevent direct contact with the cement.
Plants should be moved to a sheltered location during severe rain, hail, or wind storms, and for protection from spring and fall frosts.
Here are some varieties recommended by the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service that do well in containers:
Tomatoes: Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Saladette, Toy Boy, Spring Giant, Tumbling Tom, Small Fry