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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the Garden: Expand your harvest options with container gardening

Spokane County Master Gardener Marilyn Lloyd grows a wide variety of vegetables in containers to expand her garden space. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)

You don’t need a garden plot to grow fresh produce. Planting vegetables and herbs in containers is an excellent alternative to conventional gardens. By finding the sunniest location available – such as on a balcony, patio or your front steps – you will be successful.

The nice thing about container gardening is you can easily control the soil conditions and, should any pest problems arise, it’s easier to deal with them on a smaller scale.

Remember that vegetable plants perform best if they receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily. That can be a challenge in some circumstances. I’ve heard of folks outfitting the bottoms of their pots with casters so they can move them into the sunshine throughout the growing season.

Containers are available in many types of materials such as terracotta, plastic, wood or metal. Cloth “grow bags” also are ideal. While gardeners mostly use grow bags for potatoes, other crops will flourish in them, as well. Keep in mind that root crops such as carrots and parsnips require deeper containers.

It’s important to remember that soil in containers will dry out faster than soil in a garden. Larger containers will retain moisture longer than smaller ones. Many garden centers sell self-watering containers that have a water reservoir beneath the growing area. The soil wicks the water up to the roots, providing plants with consistently moist soil. These pots are particularly ideal if you need to leave town for a few days.

No matter which type of container you choose, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom. Plants will decline rapidly if their roots are in water-logged soil.

Avoid filling pots with garden soil, as it is heavy, can compact easily and might contain weed seeds or disease pathogens. Use fresh organic potting soil instead and fill the container to 2 inches below the lip; that will keep it from spilling over the edge each time you water. Feed your plants with an organic vegetable fertilizer to provide them with the nutrients they need to produce a crop – leaves, roots or fruits.

When choosing vegetables to grow, keep an eye out for compact ones ideally suited for this type of gardening. Look for dwarf or bush types of vegetables rather than tall plants or those that develop vines. For example, instead of choosing pole beans, which require vertical supports, consider growing bush beans because they are much more compact.

If you have your heart set on growing pole beans, it’s still possible to plant them in containers provided you give them stakes or a trellis to climb.

Monitor your plants in case any problems crop up, and enjoy your delicious harvest. At the end of the season, empty the containers and scrub them so they are clean and ready to use next year.

Contact Susan Mulvihill at Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video at