By Marty Ross
The Midwest is a great place to be a farmer—even if your farm is only a flowerpot. Spring and summer vegetables thrive in our climate and produce beautiful and delicious harvests. You don’t need experience to get started and succeed.
In spring I like to plant some of my flowerpots with cool-season lettuces and other greens as soon as transplants are available. You can grow greens from seed, but with transplants your pots look terrific right away, and you can even pick a few leaves for dinner as you plant. Those greens are pretty enough for the front porch, and they grow and thrive for months.
Plant flowers in your pots of vegetables, and they’ll look mouthwatering. Pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, and other cool-season flowers tolerate spring’s fluctuating temperatures. Pansies and dianthus are also edible—they’re bright and cheerful in a salad.
Here are two fun projects I planted this spring:
Try planting lettuce plants in a dish garden. The container should be large enough to hold at least 10 lettuce plants and a few flowers. Just as a tossed salad, mix it up with several varieties. For my lettuce bowl I wanted a mixture of colors and textures. I included brilliant green and red romaine lettuces, which are upright plants, and Ruffled Red Sails lettuce, as frilly as a petticoat, around the edge.
When you pop the plants out of their cell packs (Lowe’s sells Bonnie plants in nine-packs), you should see lots of healthy white roots. Gently break the roots apart with your fingers. This encourages them to spread out into the fresh potting soil in your container.
Work from the center out. I planted three red-leaf romaines in the center of my salad bowl, alternating Red Sails lettuce and green romaine around the sides. Purple pansies (just three) add a generous splash of color.
I also planted a large, bright-blue flowerpot with Chinese cabbage plants (five plants), curly kale (four plants), and some pansies. Sometimes you’ll notice that an individual cell pack contains more than one seedling. If you like, you can gently pry these apart, and plant them individually.
When you’re ready to plant your big pot, fill it with fresh potting soil and lay out the plants on top, so you can get an idea of how to space them. If you were planting these transplants in rows in a vegetable garden, you would leave ample distance between plants. But your vegetable pot should look full and pretty, so plant everything fairly close together.
To help you remember what you planted, tuck the labels into the soil near the rim of the pot.
Lettuces and greens are among my favorite crops in pots, but they’re just the beginning. After your area’s last frost date, try tomatoes, peppers (one plant in each large pot, with a tomato cage for support), or cucumbers. (Those need a small trellis.) Bush beans are great in a window box.
Okra looks terrific in a pot. It’s impossible to grow enough for a large harvest, even in a big flowerpot. But you’ll enjoy the handsome flowers, and you can pick plenty of fresh pods to roast, or toss into salads. Plant cucumbers from transplants or seeds, and okra and green beans from seeds. Seeds come up quickly after the weather has warmed.
A big pot full of fresh herbs is both beautiful and handy near the kitchen door. Start with transplants: parsley, basil, dill, and garlic chives are good companions.
Above all, grow what you love. Place your pots in a sunny spot, fertilize lightly with an organic vegetable fertilizer, water during dry spells, and be prepared to share the bounty.