Patio Garden

By DiAnne Crown

August 3, 2018 5 min read

Container gardening offers homeowners and renters options for homegrown herbs, vegetables and seasonal beauty on your deck, patio or balcony. Elevated garden boxes take less space than garden plots and provide the capacity for more plants than traditional flowerpots.

Places such as Gardener's Supply, Wayfair and City Picker provide options for elevated planter boxes in all sizes, heights, depths, features, materials and prices. Do you need to move the box to follow the sun throughout the day, or store it out of sight in the winter? Consider wheels. Do you want to use it to get an early start on spring greens and flowers? Purchase one with a tiltable glass cover for use as a cold frame. Will you plant root vegetables? Select one with extra depth. For air circulation and all-season durability, select cedar wood, which will also avoid the possible contamination of your veggies from chemicals leaching out of treated lumber or plastic.

If you have the tools and know-how, the DIY Network website shows a "simple DIY garden planter (that) is designed for minimal waste and cost, and is easily customizable."

If you're building your own box, place a section of wire mesh across the bottom, line with rocks and then add soil. The soil, says Weed 'Em and Reap, Urban Farming, Healthy Living at the "Weed 'em and Reap" website, should be more than just potting soil or compost. For the best results, combine soil, compost and amendments that create a living, breathing ecosystem for your plants. The site offers instruction for a good combination, as well as tips for beginner garden vegetables.

Plants that wither in the heat of summer come into their own when autumn temperatures fall. Lettuce, spinach and kale seeds are all ideal for a late summer start, or to start as plants in the early fall.

Select plants that can withstand an early frost. If in doubt, identify your growing region. The United States Department of Agriculture Plan Hardiness Zone map online and shows your average temperature range. Plants that need warmer temperatures for longer growing seasons, for example, won't thrive in more northern regions (at least historically).

Then look at seed packages or consult seed catalogs for the number of days from seed to harvest. If you need more time, buy plants instead of seeds. In Illinois, for example, lettuce seeds can be started in mid-to-late summer, harvested as micro greens within a few weeks and then replanted in intervals for more harvests well into the fall.

Several places point out frost-tolerant plants, including Better Homes and Gardens' website, which lists broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, calendula, carrots, chives, lettuce, pansies, peas, radishes, Swiss chard and spinach.

BHG offers tips with its list, including this note about radishes. "Radishes win the prize for being one of the fastest vegetables; it's often ready for harvest less than a month after you plant the seeds. Radishes come in a variety of flesh colors, from white to red to pink and lavender. Here's a hint: Because of their fast growth and small size, round-root radish varieties are good picks for growing in containers. After you harvest the radishes, grow summer vegetables or flowers in their place."

Some crops do very well sown as seed in the fall for early spring harvest. According to BHG, "in mild-winter areas, you can sow spinach in late fall for early spring harvests."

Finally, there's nothing like stepping out your door to snip fresh herbs for a supper salad, salsa or flatbread. To keep them going and growing, prune shoots regularly to just above the second set of leaves and make sure to cut off flowers to prolong your growing season and maintain the best flavor.

Weed seeds will probably blow into your garden either in your first year, during the next growing season, or afterward. Before pulling and purging, see what you've got. It may be edible. Dandelions are entirely edible, says Derek Markham in an article for TreeHugger. So are lamb's-quarters, parts of violets and clovers, and plantains, which can be eaten raw or cooked. And they're free! Enjoy!

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