Grow a lovely garden in a small space

spauff@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 11, 2012 

Want to test out your green thumb this spring but are worried about having enough space to plant? You don’t need a big yard to have a garden, says Caroline Castle. She’s grown lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers from containers at her house.

“You can grow almost anything,” she said.

Castle said there are some advantages to growing plants in containers -- you can move them around and they are easier to control for pests.

If you’re thinking about creating a small container garden this spring, Castle and other gardeners offer these tips:

Choose your plants well

Choose plants that grow up, not out. Most plants, including Southern favorites like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, okra and squash, are good for containers, but pumpkins, watermelon, corn or asparagus don’t do so well, Castle said. There are even some breeds of tomato plants designed specifically for growing in containers and on patios.

Plant warm season plants, like tomatoes and beans from April to June and cool season plants, like broccoli and collards, from September to December. Jennifer Davidson, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Agricultural Agent, said radishes are a good plant for young children learning about gardening, because they grow in about a month.

Get the right containers and a good soil mix

The bigger your container, the better your results, Castle said. A three to five gallon container with drainage holes is good for most vegetables. Don’t plant in plain old topsoil, she said. You can use a commercial potting mix or make your own, like Castle. She said she uses a mixture of four parts peat moss, two parts dry compost, one part perlite and one part vermiculite, minerals that improve soil draining and aeration and some slow release fertilizer.

Make sure there is sun

Everyone’s favorite summer vegetable is a tomato, Davidson said, but the plants need a lot of sun. “Make sure they have eight hours of sunlight,” she said. Most vegetables need at least six hours of sun, if not more, Castle said. Herb gardens are good for shadier areas, she said.

Water well but don’t overfertilize

Too much sun can also be a problem. Betty Croll moved to Pine Mountain from Massachusetts seven years ago and she said gardening in the soaring summer temperatures was an adjustment. “I definitely did not understand how the heat could sap a plant,” she said. “I’d water in the morning but by the afternoon, they’d be wilting.” She recommended watering in the early morning or evening. Check the soil around your plant and if it’s bone-dry, definitely add water, she said.

Container gardens might also need watering more often, Davidson said, because they don’t have any irrigation.

“There is smaller root space for plants to grow,” Davidson said. She said overfertilization is also a common problem, which causes plants to grow tall, but not produce fruit.

Try again

If your plants die, you can always try again. Croll said if she’s killed a plant twice in a certain location, she’ll move it.

Good plant combinations

You can grow vegetables by themselves, but planting flowers adds color and may attract pollinators. Castle recommended planting patio tomatoes with basil and marigolds, chile peppers with blue scaevola and black-eyed Susans or lettuce with pansies and violas.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469

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