Vegetable container gardens don't feed deer

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:08

    MILFORD - It may still be winter, but the seed catalogs are in and it’s time to start planning your vegetable container garden. Looking at my deer-browsed shrubs, I have affirmed my commitment to growing vegetables on my boyfriend’s second-story deck. Whether your problem is too many deer, not enough space, or bad soil, or just the desire to try something new, growing vegetables in containers may hold the answers. There are three main things to consider when planning your container vegetable garden: vegetable selection, location, and container type. For the best chance of success, choose vegetables that don’t take up much space or that bear fruit over the entire summer. Salad greens, spinach, eggplant, Swiss chard, beets, radish, carrots, peppers, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, bush varieties of summer squash and cucumbers, green onions, and many herbs are particularly suited to container gardening. You don’t have to choose miniature varieties. Choose what you like and give it a try. Vegetables that are grown for their fruit need at least five hours of full, direct sunlight each day. Eight to ten hours would be better. Root crops and leaf crops can tolerate partial shade. Almost anything can be used as a planter. Barrels, flower pots, window boxes, buckets, hanging baskets, and creative use of recycled and found materials all make great planters. The container should hold at least six inches of soil, have drainage holes in the bottom, and have no history as a container for toxic substances. Some gardeners like to use foam peanuts or crushed aluminum cans in the bottom third of the pot. If you’re going to have large containers that will be moved to catch more sun, consider putting it on a low plant stand with wheels. The best soil to put in your containers is not from your yard, especially here in the Poconos. You want your container medium to be porous so the roots can get the air and water they need. Packaged potting soil from your local garden center is your best bet. Soilless mixes can also be used. These are lighter in weight and may be a good choice if the container will be moved frequently. You can make your own potting medium. Mix one part peat moss, one part, potting soil, one part clean coarse builder’s sand (or perlite), and a slow-release complete fertilizer. Plant container gardens at the same time you plant regular gardens. Fill the containers with slightly damp potting soil up to within one-half inch of the top. Sow the seeds (or plant seedlings) according to the instructions on the seed packet. Gently soak the soil with water, taking care not to disturb the seeds. Still following the seed packet’s instructions, thin plants when they have two or three leaves to the proper spacing. Depending on the vegetable, you may need to provide cages or stakes to support the plant. Container gardens can dry out very quickly. You may have to water as often as twice a day. When watering keep adding water until it runs out of the drainage holes. Place trays under your planters to catch the excess water. An inch of mulch can help retain moisture, but too much water will lead to root-rot. If your planting medium doesn’t contain fertilizer, add a time-release fertilizer to it when you fill the container. Regardless of mixture used, in eight to ten weeks start using a water-soluble fertilizer according to the package’s directions. Do not over-fertilize. Containers don’t give you the wiggle room for mistakes that a large planting bed gives you. Although no deer have made it up to my second-story container-garden deck, a squirrel did wipe out one year’s entire sunflower seed production. Plus, the neighbor said she saw a raccoon in the green peppers. You still have to be careful. Periodically check your plants for insect and disease damage. If you’re not sure what’s causing the problem, call the Master Gardener helpline at the extension office.