By Evelyn Alemanni
Convenience, beauty, and interest are just a few of the hallmarks of edibles grown in containers. Growing edibles in containers is an ideal solution for small spaces and for keeping frequently used edibles close by. It is the perfect example of the concept of fast food.
You can use containers to grow edibles ranging from herbs to vegetables and even fruit trees. Just don’t expect to plant one day and harvest the next, unless you’ve purchased a full-grown, mature plant from the Lowe’s garden center. Like all edibles we grow, either from seeds or starter plants, it can take weeks or months for them to reach maturity and be harvest-ready. Patience is a virtue, and it rewards you well with the knowledge you’ve grown your food yourself.
Where can you grow edibles in containers? Consider the plants’ lighting needs. Most edibles need at least six hours of sunshine each day, so place your containers where the sun shines. As the angle of the sun changes throughout the year, you may even move the containers from place to place.
Remember, as well, to choose the right plants for the time of year. For example cool-season vegetables, such as lettuce, cabbages, and broccoli, are well suited for winter and early spring. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries perform better in summer.
Good to Know: Unless you want to set up a drip system on a timer, you probably need to water the containers by hand every day, so place them within reach of a hose.
Which kinds of containers can you use? First, think about the ultimate size of the plant, and choose your container accordingly, allowing plenty of room for the plant to achieve its eventual growth. Consider container materials: If you use terra cotta, be sure to seal the pot to prevent excess evaporation. In my opinion, edibles grown in containers use less water than those grown in the ground because pots retain moisture better, and it does not dissipate into the surrounding soil.
Good to Know: If you go the container route, remember that bigger is better. Be sure your containers have drainage holes and are deep enough to accommodate the roots of your plants.
Use good-quality potting mix rather than soil dug up from your yard. Plus, for convenience add some time-release fertilizer formulated for fruits and vegetables.
An herb collection featuring basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and chives (together or in separate containers) gives you lots of leaves to clip, as you prepare a tasty meal.
Good to Know: You don’t have to harvest an entire plant at once; just snip what you need for each meal to garner the freshest taste.
There are so many varieties and flavors of herbs that are fun to experiment with.
Good to Know: It’s a real benefit to grow mint plants in pots because when you plant them in the ground, they can become invasive and require a lot of effort to remove.
Flowering edibles are lots of fun. To add lovely color and snappy flavor to your meals, consider nasturtiums and violas. (You even pick nasturtium and substitute them for capers.) Even if you don’t eat them, remember we consume visually first, so flowers adorning our food excite our taste buds with anticipation for what’s to come.
When you’re ready to use your container edibles in a meal, it’s always important to carefully rinse what you pick to avoid surprises.
Large containers can grow tomatoes and even fruit-bearing trees. When shopping for trees to grow in containers, be sure to look for dwarf varieties.
Whether you have a large garden or just a few square feet on a balcony or patio, there’s always room for a few container edibles.