The Garden Patch: Container gardening requires diligent watering

Well, we talked about a lot of things in the last column – most of which you’ll be able to apply next spring. However, this week let’s visit a little about one of the most critical items in your garden plan … WATERING.

We also talked some about container gardening. This guy has done a lot of that, and one main thing about containers is … WATERING!

Since containers are usually placed in an exposed location, water is lost from the containers quickly. Smaller containers have a smaller reservoir for holding water until needed. There is no rule of thumb on how often to water because it varies with the type of plant, potting mix, weather and type of container.

You may find that daily watering is needed during hot, dry periods. One advantage of using potting mix is that it is nearly impossible to over water as the water quickly drains from the container. Check your plants regularly and look for signs of wilting – an indication that water is needed. Another method is to stick your finger into the upper inch or so of the potting mix to feel the dryness. Always supply sufficient water to allow a small amount to come out the bottom drain hole. This indicates the container is thoroughly saturated with water.

Potting mixes can easily be washed out of a container, so never water with a direct stream from a hose. Always use a “breaker” nozzle to break up the stream of water or a sprinkling can to apply water. A sprinkling can is handy for applying fertilizer as you water.

Because watering regularly is required, you will need to arrange for plant care when you vacation. Grouping plants together will reduce their water use. The most reliable method of plant watering while you are away is to arrange for someone to take care of your plants. They can water plants as well as check for problems that may develop.

Culture and care

Plants need care and attention throughout the season. Insects and disease can be concerns because plants are growing under more stress due to a limited root system in containers. Control measures are similar to those for conventional gardening. Contact your local Extension office for additional information or publications dealing with garden pest problems (no, they can’t keep your neighbor from “borrowing” goodies).

What to grow

Vegetables require sunny locations and will vary in productivity depending on the type of crop. Check seed catalogs for new varieties developed for container gardens. There are also several types of “ornamental” vegetables adapted for growing in containers. Flowering cabbage and flowering kale are attractive relatives (I always wondered how to get attractive relatives) and they are relatives of the standard varieties. Lettuce is available in a variety of colors and leaf textures. Red chard is another popular container plant because of its bright red stalks.

Many gardeners like to grow herbs near the kitchen where they are handy to use during cooking. Basil, chives, marjoram and thyme are all easy to grow in containers. Many gardeners grow mint in containers as it is an aggressive plant that spreads. Some herbs are perennial and can be moved indoors for winter use or held in the container until next year. Many gardeners dig a hole in the garden to store pots of perennial herbs until the next season.

Harvesting and storing

Vegetables from home gardens have the benefits of being harvested just before use. This usually means that the product not only is fresher and more flavorful but also is more nutritious. Vegetables are living tissue, and these tissues continue to live after harvest. Providing conditions for slow deterioration in quality after harvest is important.

Storage conditions

Cold, moist – Many vegetables keep best if storage temperatures are low and the humidity level is high. Respiration is kept as low as possible and crispness is maintained by preventing water loss. Most early spring vegetables are in this category.

Cool, moist – Some crops suffer internal damage if the storage temperatures are too low. They are best kept in a cool storage location – between 40 and 50 degrees F – with high humidity. Many fruits such as cucumbers, melons peppers, ripe tomatoes and related crops are in this category. A storage temperature in the 30s may shorten the life resulting in discoloration of the product and disagreeable flavors.

Cool, dry – Onions require a cool storage location with low humidity. Onions store best in open mesh bags so that excess humidity does not build up near the product.

Warm – Crops such as sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins store best at cool basement temperatures around 55 degrees F. These temperatures may not be considered “warm” by human comfort standards but for produce they are. These crops are subject to internal injury when storage temperatures drop too low. The damage, called “chilling injury”, is a serious as many other types of physical damage.

Select the best

Nothing improves in storage and defective produce should be discarded or used immediately so that only the best quality, soundest products are put into storage. Produce must be handled carefully to avoid surface damage, skinning or bruising. All these types of injury provide entry points for bacteria or fungi that may rot the produce and reduce storage intervals

Next week

Coming up we’ll go into detail about vegetables – varieties, when to plant, spacing, care, harvesting and common concerns. You just learned how, when and why to water so we’ll be breaking new ground (no pun intended) next time. We sincerely appreciate you, our readers, and hope you are learning something new every week no matter how experienced you might be. So, till then, good gardening!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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