Make the McKenzie Connection!

Don't let lack of room discourage you

The COVID-19 pandemic inspired millions to grow vegetables, but many don’t have room for traditional gardening.

Don’t let a lack of yard space keep you from gardening this spring and summer. Many vegetables grow well on patios, porches, balconies, or windowsill containers.

According to Brooke Edmunds, an Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist, small spaces make it hard to grow some of the larger vegetables. For instance, growing corn on a balcony may not be practical. But a wide variety of crops can be planted, including lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, carrots, beans, squash, radishes, strawberries, kale, chard, and spinach.

Some dwarf and miniature varieties, such as Thumbelina carrots or other baby vegetables, work particularly well in small areas. Vine crops can be planted in hanging baskets, grown in oak barrels or large pots, and trained vertically on trellises, stakes, or railings.

Edmunds said the amount of sunlight available will affect your choice of crops. Root and leaf crops (beets, turnips, lettuce, cabbage, mustard greens) can tolerate light shade. But vegetables grown for their fruits, including tomatoes, green beans, and peppers, must have from six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. The more sun, the better.

Almost any type of container, from bushel baskets, metal drums, and gallon cans to plastic tubs, wooden boxes, and well-rinsed cut-off jugs, can be used. Ten-inch pots are good for green onions, parsley, and herbs. Five-gallon containers are best for plants with larger root systems, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Edmunds cautions that adequate drainage is a must no matter what container type you use. Drill drain holes along the side about 1/2 inch from the bottom and make sure the soil drains well. It also helps to elevate the pot with bricks or boards off the surface of your patio or pot saucer.

Container-grown vegetables can be grown from seed or planted as transplants, as in bigger gardens.

Good soil helps. Use packaged potting soil or composted soil available at local garden centers. These purchased potting soils make for excellent container gardening because they are lightweight, sterile, and drain well. Do not buy topsoil; it can be heavy and drain poorly. The same goes for planting mix.

Edmunds said that vegetable seeds should be planted according to the instructions on the seed package. After planting, gently water the soil, not washing out the seeds.

Vegetables grown in containers need regular fertilization. The easiest type for container plants is a soluble, all-purpose fertilizer mixed in water. Fertilize every three to four days with a solution half the strength of the recommended mixing ratio.

Dry fertilizers sprinkled on top of the soil offer a second-best alternative. If you use them, fertilize them every three weeks. Organic materials, including compost, animal manures, blood meal or rock phosphate, and greensand can be used for fertilizer as well.

Regular watering is also essential, Edmunds said. The soil in containers can dry out quickly, especially on a concrete patio in full sun. Daily watering is not unusual, but don’t let the soil become soggy or have water standing on top of it. Water when the soil feels dry and until it runs out the drain holes. After spring and early summer crops are harvested, the containers can be replanted with late summer and fall vegetables.

For more information on container gardening and other gardening basics, view OSU Extension’s publication Growing Your Own Protect Your Investment.

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Kym Pokorny, Communications Specialist for Oregon State University

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Public Service Communications Specialist


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