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Garden In Containers and Raised Beds

(ARA) - The size of the average American yard continues to shrink - it now stands at only 9,100 square feet - including the house. At the same time, more and more people are valuing fresh, organically grown produce and wanting to grow their own. With new technology, special varieties and innovative planting systems, you can now grow almost any vegetable, herb or fruit on a deck or in a small corner of your yard or deck - even producing more than if you planted them in a regular-sized garden.

New garden products have taken much of the guesswork out of growing in containers and raised beds. And that means it's possible to grow fresh produce with little effort and not be a slave to your planters. Gardener's Supply, a company known for its innovative products, has been researching techniques in small space gardening.

Here are some guidelines and products that will help you grow vegetables, herbs, and fruits in containers and small spaces this gardening season.

1. Pick a Location and Container System. Vegetables, herbs and fruits need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day to grow best. Even those gardeners with space in their yard for a small garden often have too much shade due to trees, walls or adjacent buildings. The first order of business is to find an area that can be devoted to growing plants. It may be in a vacant area along your building or in containers on a deck.

2. Select Appropriate Varieties. Plant breeders have responded to the shrinking yard and garden sizes by breeding bush and dwarf vegetable varieties. Many of these are ideal for small space and container growing. These varieties may be short in stature, but they're still high in flavor and production. Some productive bush varieties to look for include ?Bush Early Girl' tomato, ?Patio Hybrid' tomato, ?Salad Bush' cucumber, ?Sugar Ann' snap pea, and ?Bush Butternut' winter squash. Of course, most any variety of smaller growing vegetables, such as bush bean, lettuce, pepper, carrot, radish, beet, basil, parsley, thyme and broccoli, grow great in containers.

You can even grow some of your favorite fruits. Strawberries, half-high blueberries such as ?Northsky', and even dwarf apple varieties such as the ?Colonnade' can grow in small spaces or even containers.

3. Check Out the Soil. Fertile soil is the most important ingredient for success in the garden and it's especially important for container gardens. In containers, choose a potting mix that contains peat moss, perlite and vermiculite for proper water retention and drainage. You can also add some finished compost to the mix, but avoid using garden soil since it will compact, not allowing for proper air and water drainage, and may contain diseases. The Self-Watering Container Mix works better than conventional potting mixes in self-watering containers. Its lighter weight and coarser texture allows the soil to absorb water more efficiently.

To heat the soil quickly, try the new Biodegradable Garden Mulch. This all-natural, corn starch-based mulch suppresses weed growth and heats the soil as effectively as black mulch, but safely biodegrades within 60 days.

4. Small Space Techniques. When gardening in a small plot, keep tall vegetables and plants to the north side and shorter ones to the south. Build raised beds so you can concentrate your watering, fertilizing, and weeding in the planting area, without having to compact the soil with your foot steps.

For a real boost to your garden, try the Hot Bed. Set the 9-square-foot bed on the garden and fill it with fertile garden soil. The black plastic sides absorb the sun's heat, warming the soil allowing you to harvest produce two weeks before in-ground plants and produce plants with less disease problems. Gardener's Supply grew 97 peppers in one bed and 167 pounds of tomatoes in another using this method. Both crops out-yielded the same varieties planted in the garden.

If you think you can't grow fruits in a small space try the Berry Trellis. This unique berry pyramid is only 6 feet in diameter, but can grow up to 75 strawberry plants. The sturdy metal framed trellis also comes with a sprinkler system.

5. Grow in Containers. If you don't have room in your yard for a small garden, containers are the next best thing. Most vegetables and herbs grow well in containers but you may need to match the container with the type of plant you're growing. Large plants with extensive root systems such as tomato, squash, melon, carrot, and pepper need at least 12 inches of soil depth to grow properly. They grow best in a 5-gallon bucket, one-half whiskey barrel, or a large faux terra cotta container. For shallower rooted plants such as lettuce, onion, radish, and most herbs, a container that has 6 inches of soil depth is fine.

Always place a saucer under your container to catch the water over flow, especially if the pots are on a deck or patio. Clean old containers with a 10 percent bleach solution before using to kill any diseases.

For easiest success in containers try the Tomato Success Kit. This kit comes with a self-watering planter, red booster mulch to increase production, support cages for large tomato varieties, and 40 quarts of fertilized soil. It's the most foolproof way to produce an abundant harvest of tomatoes and other vegetables. The 4-gallon reservoir allows you to skip days of watering, even during the heat of summer, and still get a productive crop. Gardener's Supply has been able to produce 45 peppers, almost 400 beans, and 35 cucumbers per container using this kit. The most successful varieties in testing included ?Walla Walla' onion, ?Amira' cucumber, and ?Kwintus' pole bean.

For growing fruits, the Strawberry Success Kit includes a nine-pocketed strawberry pot with a water reservoir, potting soil, and fertilizer ready to assemble. During a three-month period, they have been known to produce more than 300 strawberries in one container.

Grow culinary kitchen herbs on your deck for summer meals with the 2-foot diameter, self-watering, Italian-designed Platto Herb Planter that is made of shatterproof polypropylene.

6. Keep Them Watered. With the advent of self-watering containers such as the Self-Watering Whiskey Barrel and Self-Watering Window Boxes, you can grow vegetables, herbs and even fruits without having to enlist the neighbors to care for your plants when you go away for a weekend. With an easy to fill, built-in 8-gallon reservoir of water, plants in the whiskey barrels can thrive up to a week without watering depending on the weather.

If you don't have self-watering containers, you'll need to check water levels daily. If you push your finger into the soil down to the second knuckle and it's still dry, then you need to water. When watering, pour enough water into containers so that is comes out the drainage holes in the bottom. Never let containers dry out completely. Mulching the top of large containers and planting closely together helps shade the soil surface and reduces the speed of drying out.

7. Fertilize Wisely. Most potting mixes don't have any fertilizer in them. To keep plants growing strongly, sprinkle time release fertilizer pellets in the soil at planting. These pellets slowly release fertilizer throughout the growing season. Supplement the time-release fertilizer with doses of fish emulsion and seaweed mix. These organic fertilizers will give plants a boost if they get stressed or need a quick pick me up.

8. Support the Plants. Some plants such as tomatoes, apples and peas need vertical support so they don't flop or blow over. Stakes and trellises not only are functional, but can be beautiful. Use supports that are proportional to the size of the container and fastened securely so heavy winds don't blow them over.

The Expandable Pea Fence is an eight-paneled, foldable metal fence that can expand to more than 9 feet wide while reaching 40 inches high. It's great for trellising not only peas, but supporting other climbers such as morning glories.

For harder to support tall plants, try the heavy-duty Tomato Ladders. They can support tomato plants with more than 100 pounds of fruit on them through wind and rain. They also work well for supporting cucumbers and beans. Smaller sized Vegetable Ladders prop up eggplants, peppers, and bush squash easily. In testing, Gardener's Supply produced 2500 beans (more than 30 pounds) per Bean Tower with little effort.

9. Keep Them Over Winter. Most plants grown in containers are annuals and should be removed at the end of the growing season. However, if you're growing perennial fruits or herbs, they can be over wintered successfully - even in cold climates. After a frost, move plants into an unheated garage or insulate the container outdoors with hay, chopped leaves, or straw. Each spring replace the old potting soil with fresh soil and start growing again.

For more information about the products mentioned in this article, call (800) 955-3370 for a free catalog or visit the Gardener's Supply Web site at www.gardeners.com.


Authors Website: http://www.aracontent.com/

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