CROPS IN POTS

Thu, 04/05/2017 - 12:21 -- Nic Wilson
Growing Crops in Pots

Growing edibles in containers is an ideal way to make the most of the space on a patio or a sunny wall. May is a great time to plant up pots and hanging baskets with crops which can be harvested throughout the summer and by the end of the month even tender edibles like tomatoes and chillies should have warm enough temperatures to thrive in a sunny spot.

Crops in pots are a moveable feast, so they can be started off under cover and then brought out when the weather warms up. Herbs and salad leaves in containers on the patio allow quick access from the kitchen and hanging baskets have the advantage of being well out of the reach of many pests like slugs and snails. It's also easy to suit the growing medium in the pot to the needs of individual plants which might otherwise not thrive in local soil conditions (for example, I grow blueberries in pots of ericaceous compost as our soil is alkaline).

There are so many different designs of pots these days that there’s something to suit every style of garden, from rustic earthenware planters to galvanised tubs and moulded plastic containers which fit over a balcony rail. Interesting containers also can be made from recycled objects such as buckets or bins with holes drilled in the bottom, old wellington boots, sinks or even colanders. Pots should always have drainage holes in the base and should be filled with fresh compost (soil based compost for long-term plantings such as fruit trees and peat-free soil-less compost for temporary crops.) The nutrients in multi-purpose compost are sufficient for around six weeks of growth, so after that it will be necessary to add liquid or granular fertiliser which can be tailored to the plants’ needs. During the summer, containers require plenty of water; consider adding water-retaining granules to the compost or sink a small pot into the centre and water into it so the liquid has ready access to plant roots and will not wash over the sides of the container. Self-watering pots and trays with absorbent capillary matting are also useful aids to the summer watering regime.

So if you have a space on the patio or a spare hook on the wall, here are some planting ideas to fill your garden with tasty edibles this summer:

Salad Hanging Baskets
Last summer we planted both sweet and savoury salad hanging baskets for a sunny spot. Tumbling tomatoes are a great choice for hanging baskets: add three small plants around the sides of the container to trail over the edge and fill the centre with basil. My favourite hanging basket tomatoes are ‘Gartenperle’ and also ‘Tumbling Tom’ which comes in red and yellow for a multi-coloured feast. Try sweet ‘Genovese’ basil in the centre for its soft aromatic leaves, or compact Greek basil which is great for adding to oils, vinegars and salads. Chillies also work well with tumbling tomatoes – use an ornamental variety like ‘Numex Twilight’ with its upturned fruits maturing from purple to orange, yellow and red. For a sweet treat, plant three strawberries to trail over the edge and fill the centre with mint. Compact varieties of mint such as ‘Ginger’ or ‘Berries and Cream’ would work well, or add a trailing variety at the edge such as ‘Indian Mint’ (Satureia douglasii). Although this plant isn’t a true mint, it can be used in the same way and has lovely white flowers from July to September.

Fresh Salad Pot 
For salad leaves sow red-veined sorrel, beetroot, rocket and calendula in a container. The rocket, sorrel and beetroot will produce tangy fresh leaves which can be sprinkled with yellow and orange edible calendula petals for an attractive salad plate. And if you only have a shady spot on the patio, many crops can still thrive out of full sun. Try combining shade tolerant herbs like parsley, chives and coriander, alongside Swiss chard and loose-leaf lettuces, which should happily produce leaves in light shade all summer long.

By Nic Wilson

Nic Wilson is a garden writer, garden designer and enthusiastic home grower (especially of more unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs).  She enjoys volunteering in her local community garden and experimenting in the kitchen with crops from her garden, allotment and the hedgerows.