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4:56 AM Tue, Oct. 23rd

Container gardens fill any number of needs

KINGMAN - Are you sensible? Are you picky? Are you frugal? Container gardening may be just the thing for you.

If you would like to try growing vegetables but space for a large scale garden is not an option for you, try container gardening. If you want to grow only a few favorite vegetables, try container gardening. If you don't want to share your bounty with gophers, squirrels, or rabbits, try container gardening. If you want to get a jump on the summer season, try container gardening. If you have heavy deposits of caliche or contaminated soil, try container gardening. If you have limited space or just don't want the work of a full scale garden, try container gardening. Why not try container gardening just for the fun of it?

What can be grown in containers? You can grow almost any vegetable, especially those that grow quickly. Varieties have been developed that will grow rapidly and well in containers. The most suitable plants are those that fruit over a period of time, such as tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, melons, and leafy plants such as leaf lettuce, swiss chard, green onions, and herbs that are harvested by picking the outside leaves. The plant will continue to grow as you harvest your supper each week.

Different vegetables can be grown together in one container. One suggestion is to grow onions, lettuce, corn and tomatoes together. Some are tall, some are short, and some hang over the edges.

Half of a whiskey barrel can used to grow dwarf fruit trees or heavily pruned standard trees and grapes. You can put small vegetables under the foliage. I believe, though, that I would start with a tomato crop or lettuce, until I felt confident enough to tackle major gardening.

What kind of containers can be used? Here is the beauty of container gardening. You can grow vegetables in expensive clay pots and bowls, or recycled trash cans, plastic bags, styrofoam containers, barrels, etc. I am sure you have something around the house that you can use. You don't have to go buy a container.

Whatever container you choose must have drainage holes in it and must be free of toxic residues. Large containers such as half whiskey barrels are permanent gardens for several plants because they hold a good moisture reserve. Smaller containers for single plants should not be smaller than three gallons in capacity. Anything smaller would heat up in summer and the plant roots will burn and the plant will need frequent watering.

What goes in a container? Use a prepared light-weight mix such as indoor potting mix or potting soil that drains well. You can make your own potting mix by using equal parts coarse sand, soil, and compost or peat moss. A balanced fertilizer, 14-14-14, should be well mixed in at the rate of two ounces per cubic foot of soil mix.

Do not fill the container to the top. Leave one to two inches below the lip of the container so that you can fill the container with water when watering.

The soil mix should not be packed tightly but should remain light and open to allow good root development, aeration and drainage. To make a soil mix lighter, add perlite, up to 25 percent of the mix.

To ensure success, plant the right variety of vegetable in the right season. Seeds may be sown directly in the container, but you may prefer to plant young plants that have been raised in small cups or purchased from a nursery.

Where should you place the containers? Vegetables like sunshine but not a lot of heat. When the summer gets too hot, the container can be moved (How great is that?) to a shady spot like a porch or under a tree.

Usually a western exposure is not desirable. It simply gets too hot.

Think of places that are handy for you to check on your crop. It may be a patio, a sheltered corner of the house, by a shed or near a wall.

Now how can you encourage your plants to grow to maturity? The soil mix is fertile, but watering with a nutrient solution made up of one teaspoon balanced plant food in one gallon of water is recommended. Leafy vegetables require heavy feeding.

Watering should be plentiful but the excess must drain out of the bottom of the container. The frequency of watering depends on the size of the container, the plants, and the time of the year.

Good drainage is vital. Watch for holes in the bottom of a container that become clogged. Holes drilled in the sides of containers are less likely to malfunction.

If light comes from one side, turn the container a quarter turn each week. This will help maintain even growth.

Doing all the above will guarantee a bumper crop, right? Things can go wrong. For the best quality vegetables, plants must always be in a state of growth. This means adequate, but not excessive, feeding and watering. A wooden plant stick in the soil can act as a dip stick. It will show where the moisture is when it is pulled out. There can be enough moisture in the root zone even when the soil surface is dry.

You can grow your own vegetables. You can save money. You can use the freshest ingredients in your cooking. You can be a container gardener!

For more information, contact The University of Arizona Mohave County Cooperative Extension, 101 E. Beale Street, Suite A, or telephone (928) 753-3788.