Step 1: Choose a Site
One advantage of growing in pots is that they can be moved into the sun or shade, from indoors to outside, or from an exposed site to a sheltered one. Most productive plants require full sun for at least part of the day, but consider the needs of individual crops because while sun-traps are ideal for ripening fruit, they cause leafy plants to wilt and increase the need for watering. Wind can also desiccate compost, damage plants, and blow pots over, so avoid exposed sites, if possible, or create some shelter around your crop display.
Sunny windowsills, porches and conservatories are great places to grow crops throughout the year. For example, citrus trees fruit best in a cool spot indoors during the winter (move them outside in summer). Keep areas indoors well ventilated during the summer months and protect young plants from intense light with shading or set them on a north- or east-facing windowsill.
Step 2: Buy Essential Equipment
Container gardening does not require heavy digging or soil preparation, so there is no need for an array of large, expensive tools. Invest instead in a good-quality hand fork and trowel, which will be valuable for planting and weeding, along with pruning shears for pruning and tidying plants. Also buy a watering can with a fine rose that will not displace the compost in your pots; a small can is useful for pots of seedlings.
A range of containers of all shapes and sizes will provide homes for your crops. Buy them from nurseries and home improvement stores, but be imaginative too and create features from any suitable vessel that has some drainage holes at the bottom. Small pots and seed trays are also useful for raising your own seedlings.
Good-quality compost is obviously indispensable, but also remember labels, string, wire, cloches, fleece, netting and supports, such as stakes, pea sticks and wigwams.
Step 3: Choose Crops for All Seasons
For a display that is perennially bountiful, grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables and be poised with young plants to replace those that are no longer productive. This is not difficult to achieve with a little planning and by growing some plants indoors or under cloches outside.
Planning ahead is the key to success if you want a continuous crop over a long season. First, decide what you would like to eat, and then find out when those plants can be sown and harvested. Also select a range of crops that will keep the garden full, and you and your family fed, throughout the year. Try to mix plants that crop over a long season, like zucchini, perennial herbs and Swiss chard, with quick-croppers, such as radishes and salad greens that mature in a matter of weeks, and can be sown every two weeks to fill gaps around plants that take longer to grow.
Protecting plants from the cold and wet allows you to extend the growing season in cooler climates. If you have space indoors or in a greenhouse, you can sow seeds earlier in spring and harvest crops later in fall. Fleece and cloches can provide protection for many plants on cold nights in spring and fall, while an unheated greenhouse can be used for heat-loving crops, like tomatoes, where summers are unreliable. Growing lettuces, herbs and citrus trees on windowsills or bringing them into a cool conservatory will also prolong the harvest.
Step 4: Know What to Plant and When
Most seed is sown in early spring, but any harvests at this time of year will be from overwintered crops. By late spring, however, sweet new-season treats will be ready to eat.
- Swiss chard
Soft fruits and young vegetables are ripe for picking in the summer. Also sow fast-growing crops every few weeks to crop at regular intervals and provide a continuous harvest.
Fall brings a bounty of fruit and vegetables, many of which can be stored for leaner times. Winter crops can also be picked outdoors and on windowsills and in greenhouses.
- Sweet and chili peppers
- Apples and pears
- Windowsill herbs
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A planting of mixed spring bulbs will give quick, near-guaranteed results for kids and a colorful display that can be enjoyed by the rest of the family.