You don’t need a lot of space to grow your own food! Learn how to re-pot seedlings into containers and get tips for watering edible plants.
This is part 2 of my series on growing your own food in containers.
In my previous post, I wrote about seed starting. Today, I’ll be covering how to transplant your seedlings or simply take care of baby edible plants that you can buy at a garden centre.
As I mentioned before, if you’re new to container gardening, try to start with just a few plants that you actually want to eat. You want to enjoy the process of growing your own food – not be overwhelmed by it.
I enjoy growing fresh herbs because I’m one of those people who will buy a package of basil from the grocery, use half of it, and then forget about the rest. Which ultimately is a waste of both food and money. When I grow my own, I can use what I need and the rest will be there until the end of the season.
I also enjoy growing a few veggies each year, just for fun. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they die, but I enjoying the process of trying to take care of them regardless.
One thing to note when you’re deciding what to grow is that not all edible plants can be harvested all summer. Tomatoes, peppers, and squash will keep growing throughout the season and can be harvested multiple times. Whereas carrots, radishes, and corn can only be harvested once, and then they’re done.
Repotting Seedlings into a Container
If you’ve started your own seeds, and you’ve got yourself some baby seedlings, congratulations! Getting seeds to germinate and grow can be challenging, so if you’ve managed to raise your plants this far, that’s awesome!
If you’re starting with baby plants from a garden centre, that’s great too. You’ve saved yourself a lot of work!
Either way, you’re probably going to want to move your seedlings into a larger container. This will give them space to grow.
Step 1: Choose Your Container
Each type of pot/container has its own features and benefits, so pick a pot that not only looks nice but suits your needs as well. Also, some pots have a “self-watering” feature which creates a reservoir at the bottom of the pot. This can be handy if you don’t always have time to water your plants.
Types of Container Materials
Plastic containers are lightweight, which is great if you want to be able to move them around. They also tend to be the most affordable! My local dollar store carries decorative plastic pots in a variety of sizes, and they’re just a few dollars each. The downside of plastic is that is can retain a lot of moisture (not great when it rains) and they can become quite hot.
Terracotta pots are perfect for that classic garden look, and they’ll last for ages (unless you drop it). Terracotta “breaths”, so it doesn’t get as hot as plastic, but I’ve found that the pots can dry out pretty quickly. Glazed ceramic pots are beautiful, and have similar benefits, but they don’t generally have drainage holes.
Wooden containers have a rustic look but they break down over time. Similar to terracotta, wood doesn’t get as hot as plastic, but it does dry out faster than plastic.
Tip: If your container has holes, you can put your plant directly into it because the water will be able to drain out. This protects the roots from drowning. If your container doesn’t have holes, it’s considered a “pot cover”, meaning you’re meant to put the plant into something with holes, and then put that container into the pot cover. Pot covers are for decorative purposes and help to keep water off your floor/deck/patio. If you want to turn your pot cover into a pot, you’ll need to drill holes into the bottom first.
Determining the Size of Container You Need
First, you need to consider how much space you have to work with. For example, if your container garden is going to be on your balcony, you need to consider how many plants you’re going to grow and how much space you have to work with.
Second, you need to consider what you’re planting. A basil plant can do well in a lightweight medium pot, but a tomato plant will likely do better in a large heavier pot because the plant comes quite large and heavy with fruit.
Generally speaking, it’s easier to maintain plants in medium to large pots, because they have more room for root growth, and because they can hold more soil they don’t dry out as quickly.
Tip: If you’re re-using an old pot, it’s recommended that you scrub them out with an earth-friendly soap and water before planting in them. This way you’re starting with a clean slate, with no remnants of insects or disease etc.
Step 2: Choose Your Soil
Whenever you’re buying soil for containers, you want to look for “potting soil”, not “garden soil”. Potting soil is formulated specifically for containers. It’s usually lighter than garden soil and provides better drainage and airflow for roots. Garden soil heavier and can contain too much clay for containers, which may cause the soil to retain too much water (and drown your roots).
If you find that your plants usually dry out very quickly, you can try using a moisture-retaining potting soil. This specialty soil has sphagnum peat moss, coir, and a wetting agent to help regulate moisture.
Not all plants want to be in moist soil though. Some tropicals, including Meyer lemon trees, prefer well-drained loamy soil (like cactus soil).
Another thing to consider is organic potting soil. If growing organic edible plants is important to you, then be sure to purchase soil and nutrients that specifically say “organic”.
Step 3: Choose Your Fertilizer
I’ve used two different kinds of fertilizer over the years: slow release and water-soluble. I prefer the slow release nutrients because it’s the lazy way to feed your plants. You mix granules into the soil when potting your plant, and they will slowly release nutrients to your plant over a period of time (usually about 3 months).
Water-soluble fertilizers can give you faster results, but they usually have to be applied every 7-14 days. These nutrients can be purchased as a powder that you mix into your watering can, or as a pre-mixed liquid that attaches to your hose.
Regardless of the formulation, be sure to buy fertilizer that is specially made for edible plants.
How to Pot Your Edible Plant
Try to do your potting on a day that isn’t overly hot or windy, so your baby plants don’t go into shock. If you’re having consistently extremely hot days, do you potting indoors and take your plants outside in the evening. This way they will have time to settle overnight.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take to pot your edible plant:
Step 1: Fill your container with potting mix, leaving a gap from the top (maybe a 1-3 inches depending on the size of the pot). You need this space so the container won’t overflow when you water it.
Step 2: If you’re using a slow-release fertilizer, add it to the soil according to the package directions.
Step 3: Dig the hole for your plant. The hole should generally be twice the size of the root ball, but you have to be careful not to make the hole too deep.
Step 4: Gently loosen the root ball of the plant with your fingers.
Step 5: Place the plant in the soil and mound the soil around it. Press down on the soil with your hands to gently tamp the soil into place.
Step 6: Water the plant (gently!) until water drains out of the holes in your container.
Step 7: Place in a sunny or shady spot, depending on the needs of your plant. Check the tag to see if it needs full sun, part sun or shade. For example, Basil needs 6-8 hours of sun to thrive. The nice thing about planting in containers is that you can move them around, so if you find your plant isn’t doing well in a certain spot, you can try moving it to another area.
How to Water Your Edible Plants
The first thing I learned when I got my garden centre job was how to properly water plants. Now, I’m kind of obsessive about it…
When I started, I didn’t know that you’re supposed to water the soil, not the plant. It makes sense when you think about it – because it’s the roots that want the water, not the leaves or fruits or flowers. Actually, soaking the leaves often can actually cause fungal infections, so whenever possible, aim for the soil.
Also, try to practice deep watering. This means wetting the soil until it becomes saturated and water drains out of the holes in your container. Do this every other day or so (adjusting for the weather), and your plants will get deeper roots (which is something you want).
If you’re not sure if your plant needs water, stick your finger about 1 inch deep into the soil. If it’s dry, your plant needs water. You will have to water more frequently during very hot weather.
Try not to let your plants dry out completely, as this can damage your plant. You’re aiming for moist, but not soaking wet soil.
If you have hanging baskets (ex. a hanging strawberry plant) or small containers, you’re going to have to water them daily. They dry out extremely quickly, especially in hot and/or windy weather, and need frequent watering to keep the plants alive.
Lastly, try to water your plants either early in the morning, or in the late afternoon, when the weather is a bit cooler. If you water your plants in the middle of the day, you might lose a lot of water to evaporation. Also try to avoid watering your plants once the sun has gone down, as this makes them more susceptible to disease and mold.
That’s it for this blog post! I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.
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