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Gardening Australia - - MAILBOX -

Jeremy Cole­man, Bris­bane, Qld

I’ve re­cently de­vel­oped a strong urge to throw my­self into gar­den­ing, and my Pop has given me a lot of ad­vice. One such piece was to sub­scribe to your mag­a­zine, which I have, and he said you an­swer ques­tions. I want to get some planter boxes and grow ed­i­ble plants such as basil, broc­coli, beans, rose­mary, straw­ber­ries and cherry toma­toes. Can I plant them all in the same box? What type of soil do I need, acidic or al­ka­line?

Do they re­quire sim­i­lar soil con­di­tions? Can you also give me some de­tailed in­for­ma­tion for grow­ing cherry toma­toes and straw­ber­ries? e planter boxes will be placed in the back­yard along a west­ern wall.

Phil Dud­man says

It’s al­ways great to hear from some­one who has re­cently dis­cov­ered the joy of grow­ing things. Wel­come to the club, Jeremy! Grow­ing ve­g­ies and herbs in con­tain­ers such as planter boxes is a good way to go if you’re new to gar­den­ing, be­cause there’s no dig­ging and mess­ing around build­ing beds and im­prov­ing soils and drainage. Just in­stall the con­tain­ers, fill them with mix and get grow­ing.

Buy­ing mix in bulk from a rep­utable land­scape sup­plier will save money. Shop around for a blend of nat­u­ral soil, coarse sand, com­post and aged ma­nures. This is a good base, to which you can add ad­di­tional com­posts and fer­tilis­ers as needed. Be­fore any plant pur­chases, buy a sim­ple pH test­ing kit at a gar­den cen­tre, grab a soil sam­ple and test the pH. Ide­ally, your pH is about 6.5–7 (slightly acidic to neu­tral), which is suit­able for a wide range of herbs and veg­eta­bles.

Most of the plants you men­tioned are fine grow­ing in the same planter box, as long as there is am­ple room for them. How­ever, to avoid be­ing shaded out, the straw­ber­ries will be best on their own. They are also sus­cep­ti­ble to the tomato dis­ease ver­ti­cil­lium wilt, so it’s best not to plant them where toma­toes were pre­vi­ously grown.

The west­ern as­pect should be fine in win­ter, but may prove too hot for ve­g­ies through the warmer months. Too much heat burns the fo­liage and fruit, and rapidly dries out the soil. An eastern or north-eastern as­pect would be bet­ter, but if west is the only op­tion, re­duce the sun’s in­ten­sity by erect­ing a sim­ple shade frame over the boxes and us­ing shade­cloth with a 30 per cent shade fac­tor. Some planter-box man­u­fac­tur­ers sup­ply special frames and cov­ers de­signed for the pur­pose.

As for toma­toes, the smaller bush types are best for planter boxes. You can grow toma­toes vir­tu­ally year-round in Bris­bane, ex­cept per­haps in the peak of sum­mer. See ‘Toma­toes in a Tight Space’ on page 66 for more de­tails on grow­ing toma­toes in con­tain­ers.

Straw­ber­ries thrive when grown in planter boxes. The best time to plant them in the sub­trop­ics is April to May. They grow and flower through the cooler months, pro­vid­ing a steady crop of sweet fruit from late win­ter to early spring. Be sure to start with cer­ti­fied dis­ease-free plants from a gar­den cen­tre or mail-or­der sup­plier. Dig in a lit­tle sul­fate of postash, and blood and bone, then plant with the crowns (central growth points) sit­ting just above the sur­face. Keep moist, and feed fort­nightly with a liq­uid fer­tiliser for­mu­lated for flow­er­ing and fruit­ing plants. Mulch around plants with straw to con­serve mois­ture and pro­tect the fruit from moulds, which com­monly oc­cur when fruit rests on bare soil.

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