GA Voice - - Outspoken -

It’s easy to en­vi­sion a vi­brant lawn and sprawl­ing, raised-bed veg­etable gar­den if you’re an At­lanta home­owner. But for the city’s ever-grow­ing num­ber of apart­ment and condo dwellers, there are plenty of ways to cap­ture the spirit of green space in a more con­cise area.

One such way is the use of creative con­tainer gar­dens for veg­eta­bles and herbs on pa­tios, win­dow boxes and porches, said Robert Wester­field, a Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist at Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia-Grif­fin. “The sky’s the limit,” Wester­field said. There’s not much that can’t be turned into a con­tainer gar­den for veg­eta­bles: re­us­able cloth shop­ping bags, teapots and teacups, treated wood win­dow boxes, hard­ware store buck­ets, hang­ing bas­kets — and those are just the begin­ning. About the only thing he doesn’t rec­om­mend is tires, which can leach chem­i­cals into the veg­gies.

No mat­ter what home gar­den­ers se­lect to grow in, Wester­field said it’s im­per­a­tive for con­tain­ers to have good drainage sys­tems. These can be holes in the con­tainer, or in the case of re­us­able cloth bags, made from ma­te­rial that aer­ates the soil in­side and doesn’t hold mois­ture.

“If it does not have any drainage holes, they’ll have to ac­com­plish that them­selves,” Wester­field said, adding the ideal spots for drainage holes is on the side of con­tain­ers. “It min­i­mizes any soil con­tact un­der­neath the con­tainer where pos­si­ble soil-borne dis­eases are, but hav­ing them on the bot­tom is bet­ter than not hav­ing any at all.”

Bad soil can spoil a gar­den

When plant­ing any sort of gar­den, it’s soil tem­per­a­ture that makes a big dif­fer­ence in “I think one of the keys in the con­tainer deal is to use good, pre­mium-qual­ity soil. I don’t rec­om­mend go­ing in the front yard and throw­ing it in the con­tainer, be­cause you have a very mi­cro­cli­mate in there that needs to be the most pre­mium en­vi­ron­ment you can cre­ate.” plant health. Wester­field said the ideal soil tem­per­a­ture for spring and sum­mer veg­eta­bles is be­tween 65 and 70 de­grees. UGA re­searchers keep an up­dated dig­i­tal map of Ge­or­gia’s soil tem­per­a­tures on­line, so Wester­field ad­vises gar­den­ers to keep an eye on it reg­u­larly be­fore pulling out the seeds.

“I think one of the keys in the con­tainer deal is to use good, pre­mium-qual­ity soil. I don’t rec­om­mend go­ing in the front yard and throw­ing it in the con­tainer, be­cause you have a very mi­cro­cli­mate in there that needs to be the most pre­mium en­vi­ron­ment you can cre­ate. You can use the most pre­mium soils that are ster­ile; no weeds or dis­ease is­sues,” he said.

He ad­vised avoid­ing pine bark soils, which tend to be hard to keep moist, and said his ideal mix­ture for a con­tainer gar­den is good top­soil mixed with com­post and ma­nure.

Veg­eta­bles like okra or corn, which grow on stalks, don’t do as well in con­tain­ers. But vine-grow­ing crops — toma­toes, cu­cum­bers and egg­plants, for starters — are more amenable to the en­vi­ron­ment, as are pep­pers.

“Most veg­eta­bles — toma­toes, pep­pers, what­ever, that are fairly large-sized, would do best in some type of con­tainer that is at least five gal­lons in size, like a Home De­pot bucket. You can do it in smaller, but some­times things get kind of top-heavy,” Wester­field said.

He ad­vised us­ing con­tain­ers with at least a foot of depth for roots to de­velop.

For veg­etable plant­ing, Wester­field said to keep con­tain­ers in full sun and not di­rectly on

April 14, 2017 Spring plant­ing for veg­eta­bles

Cu­cum­ber: Plant be­tween April 1 and May 15, half-inch deep. Ready to pick in 50 to 65 days. Egg­plant: Plant be­tween April 1 and May 15. Ready to pick in 75 to 90 days. Pep­pers: Plant be­tween April 1 and June 1. Bell pep­pers ready to pick in 65 to 80 days; hot and sweet pep­pers in 65 to 95 days. Toma­toes: Plant be­tween March 25 and May 1. Ready to pick in 70 to 90 days.


top of hard con­crete sur­faces, as those tend to re­flect heat back into the plant. Turn­ing the con­tain­ers oc­ca­sion­ally helps plants re­main bal­anced, as they tend to be he­liotropes, mean­ing they grow in the di­rec­tion of sun­light.

When it comes to ar­rang­ing con­tain­ers on the deck, don’t let smaller plants get over­shad­owed by the larger ones to the point they don’t see the sun. Wester­field said also not to jam too many seedlings in one con­tainer, as it can min­i­mize air flow and dam­age the plants.

An ‘herb’-an con­tainer

For some herbs, how­ever, it’s pos­si­ble to put mul­ti­ple plants in one con­tainer. Wester­field said rose­mary, how­ever, may be best to plant on its own, as it “turns into a freakin’ shrub.”

“If I was kind of look­ing just for an aes­thetic con­tainer, I’d put a bunch of herbs in the spot. For the most part, you’re go­ing to get away with it. You won’t get high pro­duc­tion out of it, but enough to get a few dishes,” Wester­field said. “If you’re a big cook … I’m go­ing to prob­a­bly ba­si­cally ded­i­cate a con­tainer for [each herb] so I can max­i­mize the size of the herb and I can con­tinue to pick.”

Herbs such as cilantro, gar­lic and pars­ley pre­fer cooler tem­per­a­tures, and warmer-tem­per­a­ture herbs in­clude basil, oregano and thyme. Wester­field said herbs can be peren­ni­als and grow back ev­ery year, or they can be an­nu­als, which must be re­planted each grow­ing sea­son, so it’s im­por­tant to re­search the life cy­cles of de­sired va­ri­eties.

Wester­field said what makes the real dif­fer­ence in a suc­cess­ful con­tainer gar­den isn’t whether or not the seeds or seedlings — called trans­plants — are or­ganic. It’s how the gar­dener cares for the gar­den.

“You can buy non-treated seed all day long, or you can buy treated seed. Treated seed is green with a fungi­cide on it. It aids in ger­mi­na­tion for root-rot dis­eases,” he said. “I think the or­ganic thing needs to be looked at as a way to man­age and take care of the plant, but not so much to look at on the front end. It’s not real dif­fi­cult if you do a few things right.”

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