Thomas J. Story
If you have a sunny space for a pot on your patio or deck, you have enough room to grow summer vegetables. The trick to success with warm-season vegetables in containers is to choose compact varieties or to train vining crops like beans on vertical supports.
CONTAINERS. Large containers, ranging from 18 to 24 inches wide and 12 to 16 inches deep, provide plenty of room for roots and don't dry out as quickly as smaller containers. That translates into healthier plants that yield more produce. At Sunset, we've achieved good results with containers made of plastic, terra-cotta, and wood. Half-barrels work well too, as long as they have enough drainage holes.
POTTING SOIL. Start with a premium potting mix and supplement it with 1/2 cup of controlled-release fertilizer for each container. Or, if you prefer to use an organic fertilizer as we do in our test garden, blend three parts potting mix with one part aged chicken manure.
PLANTING TIPS. Press soil firmly around each seedling. When you're finished, the soil level should be 1 inch below the container's rim; if the soil settles after you water, add more.
At planting time, set trellises, tepees, or wire cages in containers to provide support for vining crops―pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Water as often as needed to keep the soil as moist as a wrung-out sponge. In our test garden, we also fed plants with fish emulsion every 10 days and added a handful of complete organic fertilizer to each container every month.
Best summer vegetables for containers
You can plant 10 to 20 beans, three eggplants or peppers, or two cucumbers in a single large container. But don't plant more than one squash or tomato seedling per pot. Around the edges of the container, you can tuck in a few edible companions like basil.
BEANS. Both bush and pole types take well to containers. To support pole beans, put a trellis at the rear of the container or form a tepee with bamboo poles. Try bush- or pole-type 'Blue Lake'. We trained 'Dwarf Bees' runner beans up a wire obelisk (shown above right).
CUCUMBERS. We grew 'Lemon' and 'Marketmore 86' cukes up a trellis (shown above left) , tying the vines to the trellis as they grew. Neither variety produced as well as those grown in the ground.
EGGPLANT. We grew 'Ichiban', an Oriental type, in the same container as sweet peppers; it bore beautiful small eggplants. Another one to try is 'Bambino', which produces walnut-size fruits.
PEPPERS. Try 'California Wonder' and 'Sun Bell' sweet peppers. Among the hot chilies, 'Habañero' does especially well in pots.
SUMMER SQUASH. Try a compact bush type like 'Eight Ball' or 'Spacemiser' zucchini, or train a climbing kind like 'Tromboncino' or 'Zucchetta Rampicante' on a trellis.
TOMATOES. Grow a tomato plant in a cage or train it up a trellis set in the container. Allow the plant to produce from one to three strong vertical leaders, tying them to the support as they climb. We've had good luck with the slicer type 'Black Krim', cherry types including 'Sun Gold' and 'Sweet Million', and the bush-type 'Roma' paste tomato.