Growing vegetables in pots

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You don’t need a huge amount of space to enjoy growing your own fruit and vegetables as most can be grown in pots on the patio. What’s more, containers filled with edible plants needn’t look unattractive.

Far from being dull, edible plants are often just as good to look at as they are to eat. With careful selection of varieties, you can adorn your patio with eye-catching fruits, tasty stems, handsome leaves and colourful flowers – all of them edible. Marry them with attractive containers and they will enhance your deck or patio no end.

To further the appeal of your containers, there is no reason why you can’t add in a few non-edible plants. Bright-red pelargoniums or golden-yellow gazanias, for instance, will look great surrounding fiery chilli peppers.

Best varieties for pots

In recent years plant breeders have put considerable e­ ort into developing varieties of fruit and veg that are more compact and smaller-fruited, and therefore better suited to small spaces. Most seed catalogues have a useful section devoted to these mini or patio veg, many of which are highly ornamental. Relative to the space they take up, these diminutive veg are often more productive

Generally, those best suited to growing in containers are edibles that will crop over a long period and won’t need replacing during the season. These include dwarf peas and beans, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines. Also look out for trailing varieties.

When it comes to root crops, choose those with round or stumpy roots over traditional ones. Fruit trees on dwarfing rootstocks work well in containers, as do strawberries.

Selecting containers

You’ll find containers in different sizes, styles and materials. Moisture retention is critical, so avoid materials that will cause the compost to dry out quickly, such as cheap terracotta. Most crops also perform better if their roots are kept cool, so steer clear of materials such as metal that will heat up on a sunny patio.

Plastic pots are very practical and most are relatively inexpensive, but they usually look quite ugly. Planting your crops in cheap plastic pots and sitting them into more attractive terracotta or stone ones gives you the best of both worlds.

Raising or buying plants

Seed is the cheapest way to raise most crops and gives you the widest possible choice of varieties. You’ll need a propagator or heated greenhouse for some veg, such as aubergines and peppers.

If you want to skip the sowing step or only need one or two plants, buy plug plants in early April and grow them on in a frost-free place, or buy more mature plants in May. You can also buy them on mail order from companies such as www.organicplants.co.uk

Quick-maturing crops such as salad leaves are best sown directly into the pot, but can also be started in plug trays and transplanted later. They can be sown in succession all summer.

Planting containers

It’s best to plant more densely than if growing in the open garden and use a compost for containers to which you add slow-release fertiliser and water-retaining gel.

Grouping and siting pots

A big advantage of containers is that you can use them where you could not otherwise grow plants, and by siting them on a patio, deck or by the kitchen door they are more accessible for harvesting and maintenance. To ensure the display is always at its best, rearrange my containers throughout the season, adding in extras and ousting any that have finished cropping or are looking dog-eared. For a lively display, you could group together pots of varying heights and shapes and add in a few ornaments.

Caring for your pots

Growing plants in pots allows you to scrutinise them more closely. You tend to notice sooner if they’re suffering from pests or diseases, which means you can deal with them before they become a problem. Container-grown veg obviously need more attention in terms of watering and feeding than those in the open garden, but you can pander to their individual needs and have more control.

Water in the morning and evening using a can, rather than a hose, so you can gauge how much you’re giving them. Also water slowly so it saturates the compost instead of running off the surface.

If you have lots of pots, a drip-irrigation system is a worthwhile investment, while mulching the surface and grouping pots to shade the roots of others will all help to reduce the chore. Finally, regular harvesting will help to keep your plants cropping for as long as possible.

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