Edible Plants and Containers
Most of the plants so far are aesthetically appealing, but not necessarily edible. Fruits, vegetables and herbs provide wonderful aroma and taste, and many varieties perform well in containers. What’s more, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other plants grow well together. You can even use cordoned containers or troughs that grow vegetables and herbs. Try planting garlic with roses and nasturtium with cabbages. You can even mix six or seven herbs together in a wooden trough or large terra cotta pot.
Fruit plants such as apple trees or strawberries require lavish attention. They attract pests and need to be pruned and fertilized. Before you take the plunge, consider these and other questions: How much room do you have for your fruits? Do you want to focus on berry plants? Or are you more interested in apples or apricots? For example, if you grow apricots, your trees eventually will outgrow your containers. So you might want to make sure you have permanent spots for these larger plants. However, other fruits such as figs can be contained very nicely with constant pruning. If you choose to specialize in fruits, you’ll need to ask even more detailed questions at your local nursery. Or join a fruit gardener club. You also might consider obtaining texts that focus specifically on nurturing your particular fruit choices.
Consider this limited overview of a few fruit selections to obtain a better sense of requirements. Blackberries are versatile, but strong. Find a sturdy tub or barrel and plant thornless varieties such as Navaho. You’ll need to let the canes grow several feet during the summer before you pinch them back. Constant pinching and pruning will result in good fruit in a few years. Peaches and nectarines may prove more doable, especially if you grow them from dwarf rootstocks. You’ll need to protect your peaches from excessive damp conditions, though they don’t mind hard winters. They need warm summers, too.
The good news? Your cucumbers, thyme, sage and cabbages are pleasurable and successful plants to grow in containers. One advantage of using a container for vegetables and herbs is that you don’t necessarily need to worry about straight rows and tidy raised beds. And you can shelter plants during weeks of intense summer heat. But you’ll need to diligently water, fertilize and provide light. Vegetable and herb plants are needy creatures.
Your vegetables and herbs need a lot of sun even if you grow them in containers. Consider planting them in wooden or concrete troughs so that you can arrange adequate drainage. For example, you can replace raised beds with sunken cement blocks; several varieties exist and these blocks don’t rot.
Hungry plants, aren’t they? Vegetables and herbs often profit from quality organic soil with plenty of compost. You will also need to build up the soil each year. Start composting if you haven’t done so already.
How many vegetables are enough? Refer back to your container garden plan, though you might consider starting with small quantities of vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and beans. Once you’ve cultivated a few successful shoots, add some more beans or other vegetables. And don’t forget to consider symbiotic relationships, see below, or organic varieties.
If you are willing to grow a great variety of smaller vegetables in containers, then you’ll enjoy providing your vegetables with care specific to their needs. For example, Dwarf French beans look nice in hanging planters, since their pods can hang over the sides. Other beans such as Purple Teepee have colorful pods. If you don’t have a lot of room, try growing radishes, since they don’t mind crowded conditions, whether in hanging pots or in cordoned containers. And they’re edible just three weeks after the seeds sprout.
Dwarf varieties of cabbage and even corn can grow well in large containers. If you really like cabbages, you can take a second crop off of each cabage plant by cross-cutting the stem of the first head in order to grow smaller heads. Corn varieties such as sugar buns (for a sweet flavor) may need a barrel-sized container. Potatoes will require a very large and sturdy container. Start with potato eyes set in about a foot of soil. When you see sprouts, cover the shootings with grass and continue this process of layering and watering until harvest time.
You forgot to purchase that thyme at the the store for your steak marinade? No worries: just reach up and pluck some thyme from your hanging basket. You could also keep a container box full of herbs such as chives and winter savory right outside your kitchen door. Most compact herbs grow well together, so you needn’t worry if you plant all those marjoram, thyme, sage and rosemary plants together in one huge container.
Many herbs grow easily from seed, so easily that they sometimes are considered plain weeds. That’s why they often do well in containers so that you don’t have herbs sprouting all over your yard. In cases of herbs such as sage, you can propogate plants from seed indoors. Since such seedlings often need dark, warm, moist and consistent conditions, they thrive well in small containers indoors. You can later transplant or move your herbs outdoors once the shoots have established themselves.
Which type of parsley is best for your garden? Curly leaf, Italian (flat leaf) or hamburg? The latter grows mostly underground; you’re more likely to experiment with Italian or curly leaf parsley. Parsley takes at least six weeks to germinate, so you’ll need a little patience and quite a bit of water and fertilizer. Consider planting parsley and carrots together, since this herb repels carrot flies. If you’re starting your first container garden, you might also consider growing varieties of mint, since it grows easily and you can choose from a plethora—apple, orange, ginger and curly to name a few. Since mint cross-pollinates easily and therefore loses its flavor, it serves as a prime container plant. You can prevent cross-pollination and decorate different parts of your home with small holders. Unlike parsley, however, mint cannot be propogated from seed but rather from cuttings. Mint also prefers larger 1-foot containers. Once your mint grows, it can be harvested at any time, so you can enjoy this herb early and often.
If you’re hungry for more details on herbs and other edible plants, see our lists of vegetables and herbs.
Now that you’ve planned your geometric outlay, studied facts about containers and a variety of plants ranging from bougainvillea to winter savory, you’re ready! Soon those terra cotta pots of dwarf pomegranates and orchids will grace your shady deck or bedroom windowsill with color and fragrance.