Container gardening

For gardeners who only have a window box, patio, courtyard, balcony or a very small vegetable garden to grow in, then containers are the answer, says Richard B…
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You will be surprised how many different salad leaves, vegetables and herbs you can grow. We have marked the items in the seed list which we think are most suitable with a small pot symbol.

You can use almost anything as a container as long as it strong enough to hold the full-grown plants and well watered soil. Conventional containers you can use are flower pots, window boxes, tubs, half-barrels, and grow-bags, but unconventional containers like sinks, baths, car and lorry tyres, watering cans or buckets can be fun to use. Use your imagination or something suitable you have lying around.

Size does matter

The size of the container determines what you have the best chance of growing. For seedlings and shallow rooting herbs and ‘cut and come again’ salad leaves containers 10cms – 15cms deep are fine. Deeper rooting plants like lettuce, peppers, cabbage and tomatoes need a depth of 15cms – 25cms.

If you have started the seed off in multicells or modules then it will need to be potted on, perhaps even to another pot before finally to your chosen container. The best time to do this is when the seedling is large enough to handle, and a good rule of thumb to use, is when the root is just protruding out of the bottom of the module. Use either good quality potting compost, or soil mixed with well-rotted garden compost and you could add small amounts of mushroom compost and coarse sand to help with drainage. Earthworms are very helpful so don’t let the soil get too dry else they will soon do a bunk. Change the soil every year and for crops like peppers and tomatoes you will need to pay attention to feeding them in the growing season. A seaweed based fertiliser would be ideal.

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Watering from plastic watering can on the garden.

Watering tips

When growing in containers how much water you give the plants is very important. They want moisture, but not to be waterlogged and on the other don’t let them dry out too much. Put some crocks at the bottoom of the container over drainagge the holes – make drainage holes in your chosen container wherever possible and to conserve moisture in the warmest months mulch the plants with organic material like mushroom compost or straw. Even shredded paper will do.

Try to put the containers in a position out of the wind. Tomatoes, peppers, basil, thyme, and nasturtiums love a warm sunny position, whereas salad leaf crops will prefer a bit of light shade in the warmer months, as will chervil. Please refer to the seed list for more extensive cultural information on the individual varieties.

Starting a salad garden and other helpful cultural details

We grow our salad leaves in unheated polytunnels on a site in the Thames Valley. They are all grown in prepared beds, into which we fork in spent mushroom compost, or a well-rotted manure and loam mix. Most of the crops are direct sown; a few of them are sown into multi-cells, then transplanted when big enough, into the prepared beds.

Some general points on growing outside. Make sure the ground is reasonably rich, fertile and moisture retentive especially when growing the oriental greens. Always rotate crops where possible, especially the oriental greens which are brassicas, and keep limed if necessary helping to prevent clubroot becoming a probblm. As a rule when I direct sow outside, I sow in rows 30cms apart, leaving a 60cms path every 4 rows. Mark out the rows with a hoe or I tend to use the prong of a border fork, and cover the seed lightly with soil using a rake. In warm weather make sure you keep the crops well watered. I use horticultural fleece for protection from pests in the summer, laid flat over the crops, removing it in the summer when the plants are well established.

Winter care tips

In the winter, I lay it over home made frames, making sure the fleece is not touching the plants underneath, this will give some protection from frost and cold winds. In my opinion, the majority of oriental greens I grow for salad leaves grow best in the spring and autumn, mid July to mid August proving to be the most difficult period, and of course long frosty periods in the winter.

We have found a few varieties of salad leaf crops that grow fairly easily in the most difficult months of the year. For example american cress, red mustard, claytonia and mustard suehlihung grow well in mild spells in the winter, with a bit of protection in the coldest days, or in the warmest summer months try mustard tai ping po, red orach and rocket. Slugs and flea beetle are the main pests affecting most of the crops we grow, especially the brassicas, aphids cause a slightly lesser problem. Mildew seems to be the main disease threat, particularly in the late autumn/early winter, when plant growth slows and daylight is rapidly decreasing.

By Richard Bartlett

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Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 9:19 am Gardening