Pamela J. Bennett
When garden space is limited, certain cultivars of cucumbers, peppers, squash and tomatoes can be easily grown in large containers with plants still producing the same amount as garden planted varieties.
In order to be successful you must first choose those varieties suitable for growing in containers. These varieties generally have a reduced growth habit and will not grow too large for a container. The seed packet information should include whether or not the cucumbers and squash varieties are suitable for container gardening. Most varieties of peppers and tomatoes are suitable for containers.
The biggest advantage to container growing is that you can grow them just about anywhere in the yard providing they get at least 8 hours of sunlight. They can be easily moved as needed and fruit can be harvested with ease. The disadvantage to container growing is that you have to watch the watering more closely as they are above ground and dry out quickly.
A standard type pot, the same height as diameter, with a diameter of at least 12 inches is recommended. A plastic pot will not dry out as rapidly as a clay pot and will require less watering. It is essential to have drainage holes in the bottom or root rotting will occur. Place a round fiberglass screen of the same shape and size as the pot in the bottom to prevent soil from washing out of the holes and to bar the entry of pests into the pot. Half whiskey barrels, black plastic pots and bushel baskets can also be used.
Pepper and tomato seeds can be started indoors in individual pots or in peat pellets as early as mid-March to April. You can also purchase already started plants in May. Cucumber and zucchini can be planted directly into the container as they are more difficult to transplant. These seeds can be sown early to mid-May.
For a fall crop, plant cucumber and squash seeds in early July. This produces a September harvest when the earlier plantings are beginning to decline. The potted plants can be moved into the garage during frosty fall nights extending the harvest into November.
Because these plants are being grown in containers, you can mix the soil to the exact requirements, giving you better growth and production. They require a loose, well-drained soil generous in organic matter. A good mix consists of one part each of potting soil, perlite, sphagnum peat moss and compost. Garden soil should be avoided as it is likely to be infested with soil pests. When using compost, make sure temperatures during the composting process were high enough to kill pest organisms. Add a slow release fertilizer by following label recommendations to each pot. This provides additional nutrients slowly over a longer period when there is active growth and fruit production.
Water holding gels or hydrogels have been introduced recently to help reduce the watering requirements of container plants. These gels are either separate and can be added to the soil mix or can already be included in the mix. The gels help to retain moisture in the soil until it is needed by the plant.
Depending on the growth habit of the plant, it may be beneficial to stake it. Be sure to place the stakes in the pot before filling the soil and before you plant. There are several types of staking systems to use depending on the plant.
A good type of staking system to use with cucumbers is a teepee form that allows the plants to grow up the stakes. Tomato cages or stakes can be used to support tomatoes and peppers. Squash may or may not require staking, depending on plant growth habits.
Fill the container three-fourths full with the soil mix. Select stocky, vigorous plants and position the plant close to the stake and fill in the soil mix around the plant. Water thoroughly; if the soil settles, add more soil until it comes to within 3/4 inch of the top of the container.
For direct-seeding squash and cucumbers, fill the container close to the top and plant five to six seeds in the center of the pot, covering with 1/2 inch of soil mix. Water and keep the soil warm. After germination, cut off the seedlings except for the two largest to avoid overcrowding. After they reach a height of 8 to 10 inches, cut off one, leaving only one plant per container. Avoid pulling out the seedlings as this disturbs the roots of the remaining seedlings.
Place the container in a site with full sun and protection from the wind. Check the plants daily for watering needs. By mid-July, begin to use a fertilizer solution for supplemental feeding. Once a week give each plant a good watering with a water soluble fertilizer such as Peters 20-20-20 or Miracle Grow 15-30-15 at the recommended rate. Do not fertilize when the plants are dry-water them thoroughly first. Check plants daily for signs of insect and disease infestation. Keep mature fruits harvested to induce continued fruit formation. Refer to HYG-FactSheets 1608, 1618, 1620 and 1624 for individual, specific, cultural requirements.
Tomatoes - Most varieties will grow in containers.
Peppers - Most varieties will grow in containers.
This fact sheet was reviewed by Marianne Riofrio, Dr. Robert Precheur and E. C. Wittmeyer.
The author gratefully acknowledges the work of James D. Utzinger and Richard Poffenbaugh, on whose fact sheet this is based.
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