In early spring and late fall, you will see that many Northern Virginia homeowners brighten up their outdoor spaces with containers full of annuals. Annual flowering and decorative plants help fill in the blank spots when the growing season is about to start, or nears its frozen end.
Easy to Grow & Easy to Eat
There is another class of annual plants you might not be aware of: edibles. Container gardening is almost too easy. You don’t even have to buy seeds. Just stop by your local farmer’s market sometime in April and buy seedlings from a vendor. Grab a few bags of potting mix and mulch at the hardware store. Pick up a few planting containers—and you’re all set. By mid-June, you’ll have lots of nice homegrown veggies to add to your diet.
There are many herbs and vegetables suitable for container gardening. Here are five of the easiest to grow, easy to eat edibles—and some general use and care tips to help you make the most of your container gardening experience.
Mint is for mojitos, the cocktail that says, “summer is here.” It’s a great container plant that spreads vigorously by sending out shoots beneath the soil. So it won’t take long for your planting container to be full of it.
Full sun or shade, mint does well either way. In June the plant will start to flower. This signals the time when leaves will be most pungent and flavorful. Trim the flower buds before they open to keep the plant compact. Then harvest.
Pinch off leaves as you need them. Or, cut off the whole plant just above the second set of leaves for a large harvest. This will encourage the plant to bush out even more. You can expect about three full harvests per plant per season.
How about pasta al fresco with fresh basil pesto? It’s quick and easy to make with a food processor.
Basil grows rapidly in 80- to 90-degree weather.
Position your basil container where it will get 6 to 8 hours of sun. Basil likes a moist but well-drained soil. Poor drainage will cause root rot.
Using a large sized container will keep moisture around the roots on extremely hot, sunny days. As with mint, basil will start to flower at midsummer. Pinching off the flower stems encourages the plant to branch out.
It’s harvest time once plants have reached a height of 6 to 8 inches. Pinch the leaves from the tips of the stems to encourage the plant to branch and make more leaves.
The main ingredient of that classic Caesar salad that accompanies your summer pasta dish and an all-around every occasion salad green? Romaine.
Romaine, like other lettuce varieties, thrives in spring. Like kale, it grows best in temperatures between 45 and 80 degrees. Hot weather turns the leaves bitter to taste.
Romaine is perfect for container gardening because each plant adapts its size to the amount of space available.
When harvesting, pick leaves from the outside of the plant to encourage regrowth.
The trendiest of super greens. The young leaves add substance to any salad. In fact, you could substitute chopped Tuscan kale for chopped romaine in that Caesar salad.
Kale is okay with partial shade, but grows to its fullest with six hours of full sun per day.
Full-sized kale plants show dusty green, crinkly leaves that can be eaten whole in sandwiches, cut into salads, used as a garnish, or cooked like Swiss chard or spinach.
Spring is the best time for kale. Cool weather brings out the best of its nutty sweet flavor. When harvesting, pick from the lowest section of the stalk. Leave at least 4 leaves at the top of each plant.
By midsummer, kale plants send up stalks of yellow flowers. At this point, you can keep them as ornamentals because the leaves will lose their taste.
This leafy green can be cooked or added to salads for its peppery taste and lemony fragrance.
Sorrel does best with full sun during the spring to early summer. It quickly goes to seed in the summer heat.
Sorrel is ready to harvest when the leaves are about 4 in. long.
Keep Your Own Kitchen Garden
Keeping a group of planting containers just outside on the patio is an easy way to keep kitchen favorites at your fingertips.
They look beautiful, too.
If you’d like some suggestions for other varieties of herbs or vegetables to plant in your container garden or advice on plant care, feel free to contact one of our certified horticulturalists or garden management specialists. They’re always happy to help.