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Small Space Gardening with Vegetables, Flowers & Herbs

As the size of our homes continues to get smaller and smaller we look for ways to create gardens for both enjoyment and food. New varieties and innovative planting systems now allow us to grow almost any vegetable, herb or fruit in garden planters on a patio, deck or section of your yard.

New garden products including planters, trellises and and watering systems have taken much of the guesswork out of successfully growing a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and even miniature fruit trees.

Here are some tips to help you grow vegetables, herbs, and fruits in small spaces gardens:

1. Select Varieties for Small Space Gardening. Plant breeders have responded to the shrinking garden sizes by breeding bush and dwarf vegetable varieties that are ideal for small space and planter growing. These varieties may be short in stature, but they’re still high in flavor and production. Some productive bush varieties to look for include ‘Bush Early Girl’ tomato, ‘Patio Hybrid’ tomato, ‘Salad Bush’ cucumber, ‘Sugar Ann’ snap pea, and ‘Bush Butternut’ winter squash. Of course, most any variety of smaller growing vegetables, such as bush bean, lettuce, pepper, carrot, radish, beet, basil, parsley, thyme and broccoli, grow great in containers.

You can even grow some of your favorite fruits. Strawberries, half-high blueberries such as ‘Northsky’, and even dwarf apple varieties such as the ‘Colonnade’ can grow in small spaces or do well in terracotta planters.

2. Pick an Appropriate Location. Vegetables, herbs and fruits need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. This requirement cannot be compromised. If you do not have a location with this amount of sunlight, you’ll want to focus on your favorite flower and foliage plants.

3. Check the Soil. Fertile soil is the most important ingredient for success in the garden and it’s especially important for container gardens. In containers, choose a potting mix that contains peat moss, perlite and vermiculite for proper water retention and drainage. You can also add some finished compost to the mix, but avoid using garden soil since it will compact, and not allow proper air and water drainage. Garden soil may also contain diseases and pests.

Container mix designed especially for self-watering planters works better than conventional potting mixes in self-watering planters. Its lighter weight and coarser texture allows the soil to absorb water more efficiently. Mix Terra-Sorb Water-Saving Polymers into the container and your plants will be able to withstand even the hottest and driest days of summer.

To heat the soil quickly, try the new Biodegradable Garden Mulch. This all-natural, corn starch-based mulch suppresses weed growth and heats the soil as effectively as black mulch, but safely biodegrades within sixty days.

4. Small Space Techniques. When gardening in a small plot, keep tall vegetables and plants to the north side and shorter ones to the south. Build raised beds so you can concentrate your watering, fertilizing, and weeding in the planting area, without having to compact the soil with your foot steps.

If you think you can’t grow fruits in a small space try a Berry Trellis. This unique berry pyramid is only six feet in diameter, but can grow up to seventy-five strawberry plants. The sturdy metal framed trellis also comes with a sprinkler system.

5. Grow in Garden Planters. If you don’t have room in your yard for a small garden, containers are the next best thing. Most vegetables and herbs grow well in containers but you may need to match the container with the type of plant you’re growing. Large plants with extensive root systems such as tomato, squash, melon, carrot, and pepper need at least twelve inches of soil depth to grow properly. They grow best in a 5-gallon bucket, one-half whiskey barrel, or a large faux terracotta container. For shallower rooted plants such as lettuce, onion, radish, and most herbs, a container that has six inches of soil depth is fine.

6. Keep Them Watered. With the advent of self-watering planters, you can grow vegetables, herbs and even fruits without having to enlist the neighbors to care for your plants when you go away for a weekend. With an easy to fill, built-in 8-gallon reservoir of water, plants in the self-watering planters can thrive up to a week without watering depending on the weather.

If you don’t have self-watering planters, you’ll need to check water levels daily. If you push your finger into the soil down to the second knuckle and it’s still dry, then you need to water. When watering, pour enough water into planters so that is comes out the drainage holes in the bottom. Never let containers dry out completely. Mulching the top of large planters and planting closely together helps shade the soil surface and reduces the speed of drying out.

7. Fertilize Wisely. Most potting mixes don’t have any fertilizer in them. To keep plants growing strongly, sprinkle time release fertilizer pellets in the soil in your garden planter at planting. These pellets slowly release fertilizer throughout the growing season. Supplement the time-release fertilizer with doses of fish emulsion and seaweed mix. These organic fertilizers will give plants a boost if they get stressed or need a quick pick me up.

8. Plant Supports. Some plants such as tomatoes, apples and peas need vertical support so they don’t flop or blow over. Stakes and trellises not only are functional, but can be beautiful. Use supports that are proportional to the size of the container and fastened securely so heavy winds don’t blow them over.

9. Keep Them Over Winter. Most plants grown in garden planters are annuals and should be removed at the end of the growing season. However, if you’re growing perennial fruits or herbs, they can be over wintered successfully—even in cold climates. After a frost, move the planters into an unheated garage or insulate the planters outdoors with hay, chopped leaves, or straw. Each spring replace the old potting soil with fresh soil and start growing again.

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