Yes, you can grow a lot of veggies in containers! Jessica Walliser, author of the new book, Container Gardening Complete: creative projects for growing vegetables and flowers in small spaces shares her best tips for a continuous, delicious harvest from spring to fall.
Jessica also shared this gorgeous project for creating a pollinator garden in a trashcan.
This article is written by Jessica Walliser. Images from Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces by Jessica Walliser are used with permission from Quarto Publishing Group USA INC. who also provided a review copy of the book. Thank-you, Jessica, and Quarto.
Container Gardening Complete
Big Yields from a Container Vegetable Garden
If you want big yields from a container vegetable garden, you’ll have to think outside the box. Even a modestly sized container vegetable garden can produce bushels of homegrown produce. But, for that to happen, it’s essential that you carefully consider the varieties you plant and employ smart succession planting techniques.
Succession planting is a system that’s often used in in-ground gardens, but many gardeners don’t know that succession planting is also a smart practice for a container vegetable garden, too. Basically, when one crop is harvested, another is planted in its place, maximizing productive space and yields.
Both succession planting in containers and in in-ground gardens is possible because most vegetable crops prefer particular growing conditions. Any given crop could be a cool-season plant that prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, or a warm-season plant that thrives in the heat of summer (some crops, such as carrots, beets, and chard, fit into both categories because they thrive in both cool and warm weather).
Succession planting makes use of these growing preferences by partnering two or more crops based on their preferred growing season and speed of growth.
- A fast-maturing, cool-weather crop is planted in the early spring and then is followed by one that requires a longer, warmer growing season.
- A slow-maturing summer crop is planted soon after the danger of frost has passed. After it’s been harvested, a fast-maturing, cool weather-loving crop is planted in its place.
- A third succession planting method involves two, three, or even four fast-maturing crops being planted in quick succession, with a new crop being planted as soon as the previous one has been harvested.
Of course, for succession planting in a container vegetable garden to be successful, you need impeccable timing.
The key to success with all of this is in varietal selection for sure, but more importantly, it’s in the timing. If you plant something too late, there won’t be enough time for that crop and the subsequent one to mature before the season ends. On the flip side, if you plant a crop too early, before the weather is suitable, there could also be consequences. Succession planting must be timed perfectly.
To do this, turn to your calendar and the seed packets from the crops you intend to plant. Use the “Days to Maturity” found on the seed packets to determine how long each crop will take to mature. Make sure your growing season is long enough to accommodate both crops, and then determine the optimum planting time for each succession partner based on your average frost dates and those “Days to Maturity” numbers.
It does take a good bit of finessing and experimenting to figure out the best timing, so take lots of notes. Once you get the hang of it, succession planting can lead to big yields in container gardens.
To get you started on the road to productive succession planting in a container garden, here are 10 excellent plant partnerships to try.
- Arugula is an excellent vegetable for succession planting. It’s a cool-season, fast-maturing crop best grown in the early spring or late fall. Good warm-season succession crops to plant before or after it include peppers, eggplants, or snap beans.
- If you grow onions in containers, they’ll be ready to pull in mid-summer. Follow your onions with a sowing of kale, turnips, or mustard greens. You can harvest these cold-weather crops well into the autumn.
- Radishes are one of the best crops to employ in a succession planting plan. Their fast maturation time means you’ll have plenty of time to grow a second crop in the same container. Try following them with a planting of summer peppers, basil, or snap beans.
- Carrots are a good crop to use for succession planting. Sow the seeds in very early spring and they’ll be ready to harvest about six weeks later, giving you plenty of time to plant cucumbers or a bush-type summer squash in their place.
- After container-grown shell or snap peas have finished producing in early summer, pull the plants and sow a variety of pole beans in their place. They can share the same container trellis.
- Follow a spring planting of lettuce with a crop of beets. Planted in mid- to late-summer, this root crop produces both edible greens and roots.
- After your spring-planted, container-grown potato crop has been dug and stored in mid summer, use the same pot to grow a fall crop of broccoli, cabbage, or collards. Plant nursery-grown or homegrown transplants into the container soon after the taters are removed to give the plants enough time to mature before the season ends.
- When spring-sown Asian greens, such as tatsoi or pac choy, have been harvested from a container, plant seeds of heat-tolerant greens, such as New Zealand spinach, Malabar spinach, and Swiss chard in their place.
- Spring spinach plants are finished producing in most climates by late June. To fill in the blank they leave behind, sow annual herbs, like caraway, anise, and dill, in their place.
- Kohlrabi can also be planted as a late-season container crop, after the harvest of summer zucchini or cucumbers is complete.
Tip: If onions stored in your kitchen have sprouted, you can regrow them.
It’s very important to pay attention to your soil when succession planting in containers. Growing multiple crops in a single season in the same container depletes soil nutrients very rapidly. In between plantings, add a few tablespoons full of granular organic fertilizer to each container (see the Guide to Organic Fertilizers here). Also, top off the pot with a shovelful of finished compost. And be sure that at the start of the gardening season, you’re filling your containers with a 50/50 blend of high-quality potting soil and compost. You should also use a liquid organic fertilizer, such as kelp or fish emulsion, every few weeks throughout the growing season.
As you can see, succession planting in a container garden is an excellent way to increase yields and extend the harvest.
If you want lists of the vegetable, fruit, and flower varieties that perform best in containers, pick up a copy of Jessica’s newest book, Container Gardening Complete (Cool Springs Press, 2017). In its pages you’ll also find tons of practical advice on caring for containers, siting them properly, and tips on cleaning up your container garden at the end of the season to limit disease and pests.Get the Book
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|Jessica Walliser is a horticulturist and co-host of The Organic Gardeners, an award-winning program on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a former contributing editor for Organic Gardening magazine, and her two weekly gardening columns for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have been enjoyed by readers for over ten years. Jessica’s fourth book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to the Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control, (Timber Press, 2014), was awarded the American Horticultural Society’s 2014 Book Award. Her newest title, Container Gardening Complete, was released by Cool Springs Press in December of 2017.
Jessica is also the author of the Amazon best-seller Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically (St. Lynn’s Press, 2nd ed. 2011) and co-owner of the gardening blog, Savvy Gardening.