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

Gardening: South Hill green-thumb has some hot tips for container gardens

Master Gardener Marilyn Lloyd grows a wide variety of vegetables and some raspberries in pots in her South Hill garden.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

When Doug and Marilyn Lloyd built their house on the South Hill, the pine trees were small and there was lots of sun on their large lot. Fast-forward 50 some years and the pines are no longer small, and the sunlight is a few fleeting hours at midday. Not the best conditions to grow vegetables that thrive on eight to ten hours of sunlight a day.

With her once sunny raised beds now chasing after light for a mere five to six hours a day, Marilyn had to come up with a new strategy to grow her tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, summer squash, beans, carrots and raspberries.

“I can move the pots around to find the sun.” Over the years, she has tried numerous types of vegetables to see how well they do.

Like many of us in the area, this year’s crazy spring weather set back Marilyn’s planting schedule and she limited herself to growing several kinds of short- and long-season tomatoes, potatoes and her perennial but dwarf Razzleberry raspberries in pots. Her summer squash, more potatoes and tomatoes were planted in the raised beds. She pointed out that while she planted everything at the same time, the tomatoes and potatoes in the pots were much bigger than the plants she put into the beds. “The soil in the pots warms up faster, especially if you cover the pots with floating row cover when you plant.”

Marilyn has a few pointers for growing successful container gardens. First start with the largest containers you can. Most of her pots were a minimum of 16 inches and up to 24 inches in diameter. The larger pots allow for better root growth and better water retention. She uses plastic containers because they are easy to maintain and move around. All containers must have drain holes to let excess water drain away. Creatively, she once removed the bottom out of a long flat container so the carrot roots could grow to full depth into the native soil.

She fills her containers completely with quality organic potting soil. “I prefer soils with coir fiber in them because coir is renewable.” In the spring when she cleans out her pots, she mixes in fresh compost to the remaining soil and tops off the container with new potting mix. If the soil has been in a pot for a few seasons, she adds it to her raised beds.

Container gardens need consistent watering, especially in hot weather. “I water my pots twice a day with drip irrigation.” This keeps the soil evenly moist and avoids stunted growth and poor production. Her favorite drip systems are small micro heads in the pots and micro drip tubing in her raised beds.

Marilyn fertilizes her containers about every two weeks with a 5-10-10 fertilizer or as close to that ratio as she can find. Plants in containers can’t draw on broader soil resources so they need regular infusions of nutrients. You can use either a liquid or granular fertilizer.