The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Contain your Enthusiasm for Vegetable Gardening

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Do you have a yearning for yams? A hankering for jalapenos? Or a craving for carrots? Good news. You don't need a lot of space or your own plot of land to enjoy fresh vegetables and herbs. A pot on the patio or a bucket on the balcony is all you need.

A successful vegetable container garden requires particular attention to the size of the container, type of soil mix, and plant variety. Any container can be used as long as it is free of toxic materials, has adequate drain holes, and is large enough to accommodate the roots of desired plants. Five gallon bird seed or restaurant buckets work well.

Leafy crops such as lettuce grow well in hanging baskets; however, most tomatoes need at least a three-gallon container. I have yet to see a healthy looking tomato plant in those "upsy downsy" things. If you want to use hanging baskets, be sure to select varieties listed below for one-gallon containers. Tomatoes, as with most large vegetable plants, need regular water and nutrition to be happy and small upside down containers are not what any self-respecting tomato would choose.

Be sure to use potting mix or container soil mix rather than garden soil.

When selecting vegetable varieties for containers look for bush, compact or dwarf varieties. For tomatoes select determinate types that stay smaller than indeterminates such as 'Big Boy'.

Here are a few suggested container sizes with their appropriate vegetable varieties:

  • Half-gallon containers: parsley (one plant, 'Dark Moss Curled', 'Paramount')
  • One-gallon containers: cabbages (one plant, any variety); cucumbers (two plants, 'Salad Bush', 'Bush Champion', 'Spacemaster'); green beans, (two to three plants, 'Topcrop', 'Tendercrop', 'Derby'); leaf lettuce (four to six plants, 'Green Ice', 'Salad Bowl', 'Red Sails', 'Black-Seeded Simpson', Buttercrunch, Oakleaf); spinach (direct seed, thin to one to two inches apart, 'American Viking', 'Long-Standing', 'Bloomsdale', 'Melody'); Swiss chard (one plant, 'Fordhook Giant', 'Lucullus'); cherry and patio tomatoes (one plant, 'Pixie', 'Sweet 100', 'Lizzano', 'Terenzo', 'Tumbling Tom Red or Yellow')
  • Two-gallon containers: beets (thin to two or three inches apart, 'Ruby Queen'); carrots (thin to two to three inches apart, 'Little Finger', 'Danver's Half Long', or 'Nantes Half Long'); egg plant (one plant, 'Fairy Tale', 'Dusky'); pepper (two plants, 'Lady Bell', 'Gypsy', 'Crispy', 'New Ace', or 'Red Chili'); radishes (thin to one to two inches apart, 'Champion', 'Comet', 'Sparkler', 'White Icicle', or 'Early Scarlet Globe');
  • Three-gallon containers: standard tomatoes (one plant, 'Jetstar', 'Celebrity', or 'Super Bush').

If space allows, add a few edible flowers such as signet marigolds or pansies. Or grow a theme garden of tasty culinary combinations in large half barrel containers.

  • Salsa garden: one garden bush type meaty tomato such as 'Roma', 'San Marzano' or 'Viva Italia' with one hot pepper plant. Add a few green onions or scallions. Sprinkle seeds of cilantro around the outside edge of container.
  • Pesto garden: two or three lettuce-leaf type basil plants, two parsley plants, several garlic cloves. (This method of planting garlic yields harvestable leaves).
  • Herb garden: one each of chive, sage, and rosemary surrounded by thyme.
  • Salad garden: cherry tomato plant with sprinkling of lettuce and radish seeds around the outside edge.

Vegetables require at least six hours of sun. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, and spinach tolerate partial shade better than root vegetables such as turnips, radishes, and carrots and fruit-bearing vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers.

Plants grown in containers will need frequent, often daily, watering. Be sure to water thoroughly each time. Fertilize plants at least weekly using water soluble organic or inorganic vegetable fertilizer containing micronutrients. Follow label directions.

Cultivate containers of bountiful vegetables to enrich your taste buds and your budget. Bon Appétit.

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