Time to start working on fall container vegetable gardens

Despite the warm weather in early August, temperatures will soon be dropping and that means it is time to start planning fall gardens.

For those short on space, many favorite vegetables can be grown in containers according to Kelly McGowan, horticulture educator with University of Missouri Extension.

Vegetables can be organized into two categories: cool season and warm season. This means that some plants actually thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall while others prefer the warmth of summer.

Cool season vegetables are the ones to plant this fall and include lettuce, spinach, cabbage, greens, broccoli, radishes, peas, carrots, beets, parsnips, Swiss chard and more.

Containers made from any material (wood, plastic or metal) will work for a vegetable garden.

“One thing to keep in mind is the weight of the container after it is planted. Lightweight containers are ideal,” said McGowan. “I prefer containers that are about 20 inches in diameter which allows me to grow more than one plant per pot.”

Containers need to be at least 18 inches deep to support the root system of most mature plants. It is also important for the containers to have adequate drainage. This may require drilling holes in the bottom of some containers.

In terms of soil, McGowan recommends using a pre-blended mix found in bags because the soil has been sterilized (eliminating weeds), are lighter, contain organic material and contain peat moss to help retain moisture.

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can just go to the backyard and dig up a little dirt,” said McGowan. “That soil is too heavy and doesn’t drain well.”

In fall gardens, it generally works best to use transplants purchased at a local garden center.

When determining a planting date and selecting crops for your vegetable garden, it is important to know the number of days it will take for a plant to mature and the first frost date of the season in your area. Many gardeners find University of Missouri Extension’s “Vegetable Planting Calendar” (available at http://extension.missouri.edu) helpful.

Container gardens need at least six hours of sun each day and should be watered more often than a regular garden.

“Because frequent watering washes out nutrients, you will need to fertilize your containers every five to 10 days with a liquid fertilizer,” said McGowan.

By following these few simple steps, homeowners can enjoy the fun and beauty of a fall garden with the convenience of containers and the taste of October vegetables.