Planting your new containers: start now

Are you ready to fill and plant those containers we talked about in my last column? In other words, are you ready for some fresh vegetables in a few weeks?

As a reminder, containers for raising veggies can be nearly anything, as long as they are large enough to hold the full-grown plant, have holes in the bottom to assure good drainage, and have not held toxic materials.

Soil for the containers can be packaged potting mix from the garden store. Or, mix it with compost and good garden soil, using one-third of each. Do not use all garden soil or topsoil, as it does not drain well enough for use in a container. Many packaged soils contain fertilizer these days, so check the label. If it does have fertilizer, you won't need to fertilize for eight to 10 weeks after planting. If it does not, you may choose to mix some slow-release fertilizer into your soil mix when you fill the containers. Before filling with soil, put a large coffee filter or two or three layers of newspaper over the drain holes to prevent the soil from leaking out.

Remember that pots full of soil can be quite heavy, especially after watering, so either place them where you want them before filling, or use dollies or a platform on wheels to move them. One of the pluses of container gardening is being able to move them in or out of the direct sun as needed. Use bricks, strips of wood or purchased pot feet to keep the container up off the ground. It should not stand in water.

Two things about container gardening that are different from in-the-ground gardening are the frequency of watering and fertilizing. Because of the limited space, roots cannot go deep into the ground to search out food and water, so we must provide it for them on a regular basis.

Containers dry out quickly, especially if they are in full sun or in a windy place. Check the soil moisture every day. Water if the soil is dry an inch below the surface. They should be watered until water runs out the bottom.

For fertilizer, use any balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10, or fish emulsion. Follow package directions to prevent burning the roots. You'll probably need to fertilize every two or three weeks.

As to planting, you may find it easier to purchase already-started transplants for lettuce, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc. Keep in mind that root vegetables cannot be successfully transplanted; start them from seed. Select tomatoes and other vining or sprawling varieties that have been developed for container use.

Getting hungry? You could start some radishes now, and lettuce and spinach too, as soon as the seedlings are available. How about a few strawberry plants? There's nothing better when they're picked first thing in the morning!

Coming up soon are two classes sponsored by Master Gardeners at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. They're $5 each; call 776-7371 for more particulars.

On Saturday, March 7, from 9 a.m. to noon, George Jennings and others from the Medford Rose Society will hold a workshop on rose pruning. Come dressed for the weather and bring gloves and clippers, as this is a hands-on workshop.

On Thursday, March 12, yours truly will teach a class on "Gardening for the True Beginner" from 7 to 9 p.m.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

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