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Container gardening made easy

Remember to plan for fully-grown plants and water adequately for the weather
by:  Container gardens, such as the one above, are space savers when it comes to raising vegetables or fruits at home.

If you lack space for a garden, consider raising vegetables in containers. You can grow any vegetable in a container with enough preparation and care.

Start by finding a container large enough to support fully grown plants and with adequate soil-holding capacity to accommodate the plant's root system. The container must have drainage holes.

You can grow vegetables in almost anything, including barrels, flower pots, milk jugs, bleach bottles, window boxes, baskets, tile pipes and cinder blocks. For most plants, containers should be at least 6 inches deep

A fairly lightweight potting soil is the best growing medium for container plants. Garden soil is too heavy for container growing. Most commercially sold potting mixes are too lightweight for garden plants because they don't offer adequate support for plant roots.

If you buy a potting mix, add soil or compost to provide bulk and weight. Or mix your own with equal parts peat moss or well-rotted compost; loamy garden soil; and clean, coarse builder's sand. Add a slow-acting, balanced fertilizer (slow-release synthetic or organic fertilizers work best) according to container size. Add lime to bring the mixture's pH to around 6.5.

The ideal vegetables for containers are those that take little space, such as carrots, radishes, lettuce, and parsley or those that yield produce over a long period of time such as tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and eggplants.

When planting, first carefully clean out the container, then fill it to within 12 inches of the top with slightly dampened soil mix. Sow the seeds or set transplants. Gently water the soil with warm water, taking care not to wash out the seeds. Label each container with the name and variety of plant and planting date. When seedlings have two or three leaves, thin them for proper spacing between plants.

Water container plants whenever the soil feels dry. Apply water until it begins to run out of the container's drain holes.

Container plants need more fertilizer than plants in regular gardens because the frequent watering constantly leaches fertilizer minerals out of the soil. For best results, start a feeding program for container plants 2 months after planting. Use a water-soluble fertilizer at its recommended rate of application every two to three weeks.

An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to container soil. Do not add more than the recommended rate of any fertilizer. Too much can harm plant roots.

Watch for and control plant insect pests. Place containers where they will receive maximum sunlight and good ventilation. During periods of high temperatures and bright sunshine, move the containers into shade during the hottest part of the day. Shelter plants from severe rain, hail and wind storms.

The versatility and mobility of a container garden allow you to grow a wider variety of vegetable plants over a longer time span than the usual spring/summer/fall growing period. By starting your garden indoors in the spring, moving it outdoors for the summer and then back indoors in the fall for frost protection, you can use nearly every growing day.

- Oregon State University Extension Service