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Gardening Light

The secret to success and fun: Start and stay small.

You can always find a spot to garden, no matter how little you have to work with. For instance, just about anything that can grow in the ground can also grow in a pot―vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, even trees.

Just one pot can add a lot of flavor to the dinner table. "It's great to be able to just walk out the back door and snip off a few leaves to spruce up a salad," says Art Director Susan Dendy of her terra-cotta strawberry pot planted with greens including leaf lettuce, arugula, bok choy, Swiss chard, and spinach.

Large containers, such as half-whiskey barrels, provide the best results for heavy-feeding plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumber. Former Editorial Assistant Joyce Swisdak's three barrels provided vegetables and herbs from spring until fall.

If you follow a few basics, growing plants in containers is low-maintenance and one of the easiest ways to fall in love with gardening, even if you're limited to a cutting and a bottle. And who knows how deep your roots will eventually grow.

Tips for producing container garden fruit as good as from any garden.

The bigger, the better. For large edible plants―tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, and melons―use big containers (10 gallons or more), such as whiskey-barrel halves. You'll water less frequently and harvest bigger fruit. Make sure all containers have drainage holes. Also, ask your nursery retailer for recommendations, or check seed packets for space requirements.

Water, water, water. Critical to plants at flowering and fruiting stages, water should be provided on a steady basis, and as needed. Skip a day of watering when larger plants are at their peak, and you can lose your crop. Depending on what you plant and the size of the container, you may even need to water twice a day in the high heat of summer.

Feed plants regularly. Popular water-soluble fertilizers such as Peters and Miracle-Gro are convenient and effective for most plants. Use a balanced formula―either 7-7-7 (nitrogen-phosphate-potassium) or 10-10-10 combination fertilizers. Don't exceed recommended concentrations, but boost feedings―from, say, once a month to every two weeks―during peak growing periods.

Don't recycle soil. Instead of using excess soil from your yard or from last year's containers, buy a sterile mix such as Pro-Mix (found at nurseries). Sterile mixes are specially formulated to suit container plants. They hold water and nutrients in suspension better than standard soil mixes, are more affordable when bought in bulk, and reduce the risk of pests and diseases.