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Home & Garden

Container garden can be vegetable patch

| Friday, May 14, 2010

Put away the rototiller. It's time to plant your tomatoes, beans and peppers in outdoor pots.

"Simply put the vegetables where wildlife can't get them," says Pamela Crawford, author of "Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers," (Color Garden Publishing, $19.95) a new photo-rich guide to problem-free and flower-filled, backyard vegetable gardening.

"It's so important to me that people are successful, and people don't realize how easy it is to grow them (vegetables) in containers," says Crawford, a Canton, Ga., grandmother.

Crawford writes gardening books at her home on 13 acres in suburban Atlanta, and photographs her own trial gardens.

Southern Living featured Crawford's gardens in its April issue.

"Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers," Crawford's ninth book and fourth book on container gardening, shows and tells readers what vegetables and ornamental plants to grow in shared containers for minimum-care beauty and maximum crop production.

"Most people tell me they routinely kill plants. I am writing this book for them," writes Crawford, who has a master's degree in landscape architecture. "I'm addicted to flowers and have quite a bit of experience with them ... Vegetables are another story. I had never grown any (vegetables) before deciding to write this book.''

Last May, Crawford test planted nearly 1,800 plants in more than 200 containers. More than 1,370 of the plants failed.

"I said, I'm just going to plant a bunch of stuff, and then I'm going to record what works and what didn't," Crawford says. "That's what this book is all about."

Crawford urges readers to carry the book when buying plants. Nearly 40 pages of plant profiles tell you how to successfully grow 18 types of vegetables and 36 types of flowers and ornamental plants. Each plant's profile tells you how big the plant grows, how much sunlight and water it needs, what temperatures it likes, what varieties to buy, and what crop yield to expect, plus tips for trimming, harvesting and fertilizing. Each plant profile also tells you what size container works best.

"The reason that I'm so excited about growing vegetables in containers is because it's much easier than growing them in the ground," Crawford says. "They like a potting mix a lot more than they like whatever you've got in the ground. ... They don't get nearly as many bugs."

Knowing where and when to plant each type of vegetable is important, Crawford says. "For most vegetables, you need at least six hours of light per day, preferably longer."

Cool-season vegetables are: arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, collards, mustard and turnip greens, lettuce, okra, peas and spinach.

Warm-season vegetables are beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tomatoes and watermelon.

Good-looking annuals, perennials and herbs to plant with vegetables include pansies, wax and dragon wing begonia, coleus, lavender, rosemary and "sunpatiens," a type of impatiens.

The first two chapters of "Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers" cover the basics of container gardening, including what type of soil to buy: a trusted brand of potting mix.

"Potting mix is basically peat moss," Crawford says. "The nice thing about these peat-based potting mixes is they have a lightness that lets air get to the roots of the plants, which is very, very important, and it also allows drainage in the pot.

"All you do is pour (potting mix) into a pot that has a hole in the bottom, put in some Dynamite fertilizer (Crawford endorses the brand) and you don't have to do anything but water for six months."

"Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers" -- a 168-page soft-cover book -- is available at Home Depot, Lowe's and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

A growing passion

Vegetable gardening is a fast-growing U.S. trend, according to folks at the Garden Writers Association in Manassas, Va.

"It's up significantly," says executive director Robert LaGasse.

In 2009, for example, 7 million new households tried vegetable gardening, and only lawn care surpassed vegetable gardening in the amount of time and resources devoted to it by folks with yards or garden, according to LaGasse.

Before 2008, people with lawns and gardens devoted more time and resources to lawns, annuals and perennials than vegetable gardening, LaGasse says.

Vegetable gardens also emerged as the most popular type of edible gardens grown in 2009 -- compared to fruit and herb gardens -- according to the November 2009 Garden Trends Research Report for the Garden Writers Association Foundation.

Additional Information:

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