Category: Tips & Tricks


I’ve been asked by a couple of friends recently about what I’d recommend to grow in pots, particularly for those living with only a balcony or small courtyard. My initial answer to this question is usually “everything”, because truthfully I grow most things in pots as well as in the ground. Not only does it help expand the limited space I have, but I find it much easier to protect plants from snails and slugs (as they are off the ground and I can use copper tape around the edge). I also find I can access sunny spots in the yard that would otherwise get missed.

However with a bit more thought, there are some I would recommend over others – here is my top 10 list of plants I would recommend for pots. Keep in mind that these are the ones I’ve had success with in my garden, and really the best thing to do is experiment as different things may work better or worse in different locations.

 

Top 10 for pots

1. Blueberries

I must sound like a broken record by now – but blueberries would have to be my top recommendation for pots. They look stunning most of the year and you get food as well! Blueberries prefer acidic soil which can be easier to control in pots (as you can buy acidic potting mix) and they are one of my favourite flowers.  Although I have both, if you’re only planting a couple (plant at least 2 – they do better in pairs) I’d stick with ones that are evergreen to have something visually nice throughout the year.

blue 1 blue 2 blue 3 blue 4

2. Tomatoes

Definitely a close second – if I could only grow two things, tomatoes would always be in the top two as the taste of a home grown tomato cannot compare to ones from the supermarket. I’ve had equal success with tomatoes grown in pots and in the ground. I even tried “Florida basket” last year, which is small and compact. Kept in a pot on the deck it was quite cute, but I had a lot more tomatoes from my other taller plants. I prefer growing cherry and grape tomatoes for the massive abundance of tomatoes they produce, however I usually grown several types for a variety.

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Florida basket

tom 1

Roma tomato growing in a pot

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“Sweet bite” cherry tomato in a pot

3. Climbing Beans

I try every year to grow beans in the ground and snails always find their way in my protective containers and destroy any hope I had of a crop. The majority of beans I’ve harvested have been from pots. It also gives me a chance to experiment with places to put them and things to climb up, such as my mailbox beans in the photo below. As they grow up, they really don’t take up much space, so won’t overcrowd a small area.

bean 5 bean 4 bean 2bean 3bean 1

4. Potatoes

Last year I tried a mix of potatoes and planted some in the ground and some in pots. Planted in winter, I eagerly awaited the harvest in summer. I’d forgotten one thing though – we have clay soil. By the time summer came around and our clay soil had hardened to brick-like consistency in areas (despite my best attempts to work with the soil, there are still rock hard patches) – I realised potatoes in the ground probably wasn’t well thought out. After trying for a while to dig the potatoes out (imagine trying to dig a potato out of a brick), accidently splitting several as I went – I decided it just wasn’t worth the trouble. By comparison I had loads of buttery potatoes from the ones I’d planted in pots and grow bags. I’ll only be growing potatoes in pots from now on.

potato 2

Potatoes growing in grow bags – add more soil as they grow

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Potato in flower

Potato in flower

5. Strawberries

While they have grown really well in the ground at my place too – I never make it to the ripened strawberries before the slugs do. I now really only grow them in pots and they look very cheerful too which is a bonus! Mine tend to get very thirsty in summer, so keep an eye on watering.

straw 1 straw 2 straw 5 straw 4 straw 6

6. Baby carrots

As with potatoes, carrots can be a nightmare to get out of the ground. Many times I’ve ended up pulling off the green top of the carrot and have to dig the root out. Baby carrots can easily be grown in pots and harvesting is a lot less effort. Just make sure the pot is deep enough to fit the carrots in.

carrot 1 carrot 2

7. Flowers

Very broad I know – but if you’re growing veggies in pots I’d highly recommend flowers as well to help bring bees in for pollination. They also instantly cheer up any area! I tend to stick with annuals which grow fast and are pretty hardy. I’ve had particularly good success with alyssum, dwarf sunflowers, petunias and violas.

 flower 1 flower 2 flower 3 flower 4 flower 5

8. Broad beans

I grow broad beans in pots and in the ground and I’ve had equal success with both. In the front yard I often grow them in pots purely for extra sun access. I’ve found they are pretty hardy plants and a good winter/spring crop while you’re waiting to plant summer veggies.

br bean 1 br bean 2 br bean 3

9. Lettuce

Compact and can be grown pretty much all year round. What else do you need?! I tend to use a mix of different types as I like the variety of colours.

 lettuce lettuce 2

10. Dwarf fruit tree

Although I haven’t had a huge amount of success with my orange tree –I love the smell and the flowers which is why it makes it into my top ten list. As you may have seen in my previous post, all of my fruit trees are currently growing in pots due to limited space. A fruit tree may be a bit a stretch if you only have a balcony, but the “lots of lemon” citrus tree is a very dwarf citrus and some types of fruit trees are even grown specifically for small spaces (such as my ballerina apples). A bay tree cutting will start out pretty small too.

So hopefully this has given those of you with limited space an idea or two past the obvious kitchen herbs. And if none of this seems to work – try cats. I’m extremely good at growing cats in pots….

cat 7 cat 2cat 1 cat 6 cat 4 cat 8cat 5

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One of my gardening goals this year was to learn how to take cuttings. I have always been envious of more experienced gardeners taking (or stealing) cutting from other people’s gardens – they’ve always given the impression of really knowing what they’re doing! The ultimate step to “you’re not an amateur anymore”. Plus it’s a really cheap way to get more plants! I must admit, I have tried cuttings in the past – but they never worked. In fairness I did absolutely no research into the type of cuttings I had, or the best time of year to try. I did try a little rooting powder but just stuck them in a pot & hoped nature would do the rest… nature didn’t.

So this year I decided I really wanted to learn how to take cuttings in order to move up the imaginary ladder of experience that is in my head. I decided to try again with the variety of correas I have, as I would really like multiples of the ones that are growing well. A little research found the best time to try correa cuttings is in autumn, and also that correas are supposed to be very easy to take cuttings – perfect! Back in March I filled a seedling tray of potting mix, cut tips off a few different correas, dipped them into a cutting rooting gel – and voila my work was done. I kept them covered with the seedling tray lid and all that was left to do was wait…

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My cuttings tray when first planted

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Cuttings when first started (March)

Several died extremely quickly. Way faster than I would have expected. It really didn’t get my hopes up. However I kept watering the ones that had survived every now and again, and after a while, when I’d really forgotten about them – I realised most of the remaining ones had started to grow!! With a joyful little jump and cheer I raced for the camera, and while the growth is small (considering I started them 4 months ago), the only way is up! I’ve now learnt that cuttings can be quite easy – I just needed a little research – and a lot of patience.

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Before and after of the same cutting – it’s grown!!

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Before and after of the same cutting – small amount of growth

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Before and after of the same cutting – 3 new leaves

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New shoots (July)

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Most are growing!

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Current tray (photo taken today) – a few have died, but lots are starting to grow

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Last winter I plated 8 different types of potatoes to determine if any type of potato is better suited to container gardening (and therefore more prolific). In the last couple of weeks I’ve finally harvested the last bag of potatoes (Inova – was probably ready to harvest in early Feb, but distractions meant I only dug them up in March) and I can now report on what I found.

Inova - the last harvest

Inova – the last harvest

Unfortunately there was no clear winner out of the 8 – the Pontiac, Ruby Lou, Coliban, Desiree and Sebago all did quite well, and there were only grams between their finishing weights. However the others (Inova, Nicola and Dutch Cream) weren’t really that far behind – only around 100g lighter finishing weight which isn’t much! In number of potatoes they ranged from 15-20 larger ones per bag, or up to 30 smaller ones depending on the type. All still smaller than what you’d commercially buy in the supermarket. Although I will always strive for and wish for larger harvests, when there are only two of us to feed the small collections are ample and means there is never any wastage.

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Dutch cream

spud 1

Desiree

  spud 3

What I hadn’t realised initially was the harvest range I would end up with. The first potato harvest was back in October last year, and the harvests carried through gradually until this month! 6 months of potatoes – really not what I had expected. So while I can’t recommend a certain type of potato to try out in containers – I would highly recommend trying a range so that you can enjoy gorgeous, buttery home grown potatoes for half a year. That’s what I did and I’d definitely do it again!

spud 7

Previously I’ve always tended to ignore whiteflies as they never seem to eat much from my garden. However this year I seem to have had a huge number of the flies and a lot of plant leaves are showing signs of damage. I have heard, through various readings, that whiteflies love the colour yellow and one way to help overcome the infestation is to make up yellow sticky cards. Seemed simple enough and I thought it was worth a go.

 card 1

card 7 card 6

I cut up some cheap yellow cardboard and placed them into snap lock bags to help protect from rain. After tying them around various places in the garden I sprayed olive oil over the cards to make them sticky. All that was left was to wait. It really didn’t take long – within seconds of putting the oil on, I was catching flies. After 24 hours the cards were full and needed to be cleaned and have the oil re-applied. I’ll have to wait and see for now if long term use helps cull my whitefly population, but it may be worth a try if you’re having similar problems.

 bug 2 bug 1 bug 3

I think the verdict is finally in on my seedling experiment (see previous posts: breaking the first rule of blogging and seedling experiment update) and now I know what to do in years to come. I’d love to show you a photo of the winning tray – which by far was the tray kept under a sunny window, but I can’t as the tray was so successful most of the seedlings are now out in the garden! Instead here are some healthy looking tomatoes, all grown from seeds from the winning tray and even starting to form fruit.

"Sweetie" tomoatoes

“Sweetie” tomatoes

"Florida Basket" tomatoes

“Florida Basket” tomatoes

"Tommy Toe" (left) and two "Sweet Grape" tomatoes

“Tommy Toe” (left) and two “Sweet Grape” tomatoes

Verdict 4

As the spring weather heated up – I did move this tray outside into full morning sun and then back inside at night for protection, which seemed to work well and the seedlings thrived.

Also a very big thank you to Rosalind (of Just Another Beer Blog) who recommended I try small shallow trays rather than just ready-to-plant paper pots. At first the tray was half demolished by snails in the greenhouse, but after I moved it inside the seedlings have grown really well. Particularly the eggplant seedling – I have never been able to grow eggplants from seeds into full size plants before! Now I know for the years to come how to make it happen – thank you!

verdict 5

Eggplant seedlings growing

verdict 6

Eggplants currently out in the garden

I’ve had a couple of chilli and capsicum seedlings growing – but they have been quite small and are growing a lot slower than the tomatoes and eggplants. Hopefully they’ll get big enough to plant out soon.

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Chilli and friend

verdict 8

Capsicums

As for the control tray that was left outside open to the elements – I have planted out a couple of tomatoes from this tray, but that was really all and they haven’t thrived like the others. As for the greenhouse seedlings – it was a complete disaster. I have planted out nothing from this tray, and they barely grew after germination. Once slightly warmer weather during spring kicked in, despite leaving the door open during the day and watering daily, all the seedlings died.

So I may not be the best salesperson for greenhouses or paper pots – but at least I’ll be enjoying my very own tomatoes and eggplants this summer (and still hopeful for capsicums) – all grown from seeds. But I won’t be getting rid of my greenhouse just yet – because apparently I’m not the only one who uses it…

verdict 9 Verdict 10

Nasturtium Capers

cap 1

With this latest discovery, nasturtiums are possibly the most useful plant in my garden. They grow easily and quickly (including hard to fill places), they cover the garden with bright beautiful flowers (which you can eat – my type of flower!) They then shed loads of seeds all over the ground and self-sow so easily that I haven’t had to grow any from seed since my initial two nasturtium plants from a few years ago. The rest of the plant can be composted, adding to their usefulness. I was already pretty happy with how much I could do with them until I learnt I was wasting the seeds (despite giving away as many as I could) – I could be making nasturtium capers!!

cap 2

I’m not sure how I missed this one, but after mentioning it to a few people it seems they are pretty common. It’s also amazing easy to do: collect the seeds (they need to be green) and soak them in salty brine for 24hrs.  Drain, pat dry and place into sterilised jars. Add herbs and a bay leaf if you like, and then fill the jars with white wine vinegar. Too easy! All that’s left is to add some labels and wait for a couple of weeks for the flavour to develop. I made these at the very end of last month, so it won’t be long before I can give them a try…

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It’s been a month since I started off my seedling experiment (see previous post – breaking the first rule of blogging), but given the small amount of growth I wish I’d started a month earlier. By far, the winner at the moment is the seedling tray that has been kept inside under the window. The seeds germinated over a week earlier than the other two trays (greenhouse and “control” outside) and the seedlings are now visibly larger as well. A few tomatoes have even been large enough to plant out into the garden, which already feels like a success compared to last year.

Tray 1: kept inside under a sunny window

Tray 1: inside

Tray 1: inside

Seedling from tray 1 planted out in the garden

I was surprised that the seeds in the greenhouse tray took so long to germinate, but I think despite watering them daily they were drying out too much. After moving the tray to the middle shelf (rather than top) they seemed to do better. That was until snails found them…. I would have thought this tray would have been the safe one! But alas, having basil seedlings growing in there too – snails devoured the basil and a few of my other seedlings at the same time. Nightly snail checks over a week found a new snail in there each night, so I’ve moved some of the seedlings into the inside tray to keep them safe.  The seeds in the tray left outside (open to the elements) germinated around the same time as the ones in the greenhouse and growth has been at about the same rate. No snail attacks as of yet, but a few seed pots were obliterated by what appears to be a cat attack. Well I did say they were open to all elements…

Tray 2: greenhouse

Tray 3: outside

Tray 3: tomato seedlings (quite small compared to tray 1)

While I will still be updating on the progress of the three trays, I think I have already discovered why I have been struggling with small seeds – I bought a greenhouse. Two years ago I had a lot of success with small seeds, but I didn’t have the greenhouse then so I would move the seedlings outside during the day, and bring them inside (sheltered from the cold and snails) each night. The seedlings loved the attention and thrived. Last year I bought a greenhouse and grew all my seedlings in there. While it made sense to me at the time, the temperature fluctuations (even when keeping the door open on hot days) was obviously enough to stop the success of my small seeds.

Tray 2: greenhouse – eggplant seedling

I won’t be throwing out the greenhouse just yet though, larger seedlings do really well earlier in spring when it’s a bit too cold to be in the garden yet, and some plants can be moved in over winter to help keep them warm. For now though it looks like our house will be turning into a nursery each spring…

I’m hoping the answer is no, however my freezer may now disagree with me…

Gearing up for the spring overhaul, it was time to remove the last of the winter crops to make room for new spring seedlings. After I removed a few spent broccoli, I was amazed to find how mulch celery I had growing! I remember planting the seedlings out, but they seemed to do such a good job of hiding among the other veggies as they grew that I hadn’t realised how much celery I really had.

After debating with myself about how much I celery I could eat in a week (even for the most healthy eaters, realistically there’s definitely a celery limit) – the only solution was to freeze it.

I did this last year too and I found for me it’s the best way to keep celery. Cut into the size I would normally use for cooking – it’s so easy to just grab a bag out of the freezer ready to add to a meal.

To do this I blanch the cut up pieces for a minute and a half before placing it in ice water to stop the cooking process. I then bag it and voilà! Celery ready to use whenever I need. It sounds easy – but due to the amount of celery I had this process seemed to take hours! Worth it though, as I won’t need to buy celery for many months.

Given the cost of blueberries in supermarkets and how cheap blueberry plants are, I figured it made sense to start growing them at home. They are pretty small plants too which works well with the limited space I have. They also have gorgeous delicate little flowers which are perfect for helping with the eye-appealing side of the garden. As a lot of my blueberries didn’t even make it inside last year (couldn’t help but eat them straight off the bush!) I thought this year I should plant some more. Now’s the best time to plant them and I bought 4 new plants last week which are now out in the garden.

The new blueberry plants

I bought my first blueberry plant a couple of years ago and followed what I thought was good advice on how to grow it…. it died pretty quickly. Obviously the advice wasn’t that good! Last year I decided to try again and followed different advice – this time from my all time hero Alys Fowler.

The main points are:
1. Blueberries require acidic soil.

The first year I didn’t do this, just used standard potting mix and the plant died. Last year I bought special acidic potting mix and have kept the plants in pots – they thrived in it! Really, really recommended going the extra mile to get acidic soil.

2. Grow them in pairs

3. Position in full sun

These three things have left me with happy plants and blueberries to harvest throughout spring to autumn – even within the first year of having them. This season, hopefully a few more blueberries might actually make it inside….

It’s been a bit over a month since I started my experiment to see if leggy seedlings could be saved by planting them deeper than normal into soil – and I have good news! Don’t throw out your leggy seedling, because so far a lot have survived….

The verdict for the veggie seedlings:

 

Kale – huge success! All three types of kale (Red, Tuscan and Blue) that I’ve been growing have continued to grow and do well. Even so large now I transplanted a couple into the garden. While doing this I found than new roots had formed in the section I had planted up.

Red and Tuscan kale leggy seedlings out in the garden!

Broccoli/Cauliflower – mixed success… some have done quite well, others growing slowly. They haven’t died, but when checked hadn’t formed new roots either… will have to keep watching these ones

Purple Sicily Cauliflower

Silver beet/Ruby Chard and Kohl Rabi – all died. Don’t bother trying to save these ones.

Cabbage – will have to let you know for next time, because unfortunately these were all eaten by snails in the first week…

And in the flower department:

Honesty & Stock: Mixed success – still alive but growth extremely slow

Cornflower & Calendula – huge success! Growing well and looking good!

 

So there you have it. Turns out you can plant up leggy seedlings – some will form new roots and others will benefit from a bit of extra support. Overall leggy seedlings are certainly not a waste!