Step 1: Feeding Crops
Fresh compost contains all the essential nutrients plants need to grow and establish, but when they become exhausted, most crops will need extra fertilizer. Quick-growing salad greens and roots should not need feeding, while peas and beans are able take nitrogen, needed for healthy leaves, from the air, but require fertilizers rich in potassium (potash) to develop an abundance of flowers and pods. Many fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, zucchini and squashes, also require regular applications of potassium fertilizer, such as tomato food, once their first fruits have set to sustain further flowering and fruiting.
Feed leafy crops, such as chard and kale, every few weeks with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. However, nitrogen promotes soft new growth, which draws pests and can be damaged by frost, so use sparingly and don’t apply in fall. Top-dress fruit trees and bushes in spring with a slow-release, granular all-purpose fertilizer, which contains a balance of all the main plant nutrients.
Step 2: Weeding Crops
One huge advantage that container gardening has over growing crops in a conventional plot is that weeds are less prolific and easily controlled. Unlike garden soil, most commercially produced compost is free of weed seeds, which means that vegetable seeds should be the only plants that germinate in your pots. Of course weed seeds will blow in and could be present in any homemade compost, so watch out for their seedlings and pluck them out with your fingers as soon as you see them.
Dandelions and other weeds with long tap roots can be lifted from the compost with a hand fork. Check your containers regularly for these pernicious weeds because they can be difficult to remove once their roots become entwined with those of your crops. Be sure to remove all weeds before they flower and start producing seeds of their own.
Step 3: Watering Crops
Watering not only prevents wilting but also allows plants to take up soluble nutrients in the compost. The task requires careful judgement to ensure that established plants have enough moisture to sustain them, and that seedlings and young plants are not overwatered. You may need to water twice a day in hot weather, and check containers regularly, even after rain, because plants’ foliage often prevents moisture reaching the compost. To make the job easier, invest in quality watering cans, or install a hose or irrigation system for larger collections of pots.
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Watering, fertilizing and repotting protects container plants from diseases and prolongs their lives.