Cool-season edibles perfect for in early spring container gardens
Spring is here! As the days get longer and the temperatures slowly rise, it is time to plan and plant your containers with cool-season edibles.
Cool-season edibles refer to those plants that thrive in cooler temperatures and can survive a light frost. It is ideal to grow them into maturity when the weather is still cool, otherwise they can taste bitter if grown in warmer weather above 70 degrees.
Cool-season edibles include leaf lettuce, spinach, bok choy, Swiss chard, kale, arugula, peas, strawberries, broccoli, kohlrabi, radishes, sage, thyme, lavender, mints, oregano, rosemary, scallion, nasturtium, pansies, and violas.
Check the fully stocked Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines for edible plants you would enjoy growing and especially love eating.
Herbs and vegetables can also be ornamentally beautiful, adding color and texture to your containers in combination with other annual plants. The best part: these beautiful container accents can also be harvested throughout the season. To create your own spring container, you will need a container, soil, fertilizer and a selection of cool season plants.
Choosing your container should be fun, too. Match it to your own personal style. It can be plastic, metal, clay or ceramic. Urns, window boxes or even an upcycled wheel barrel can be used. Just make sure the container has drainage holes. This is important to allow the water in the soil to drain freely so air is available for the roots, which protects them from rot, fungus and bacteria. If your container does not have a drainage hole, one can be drilled, but it must be able to drain so your plants' roots are never standing in water.
Next, choose an organic potting soil, like the Espoma brand. The soil should be lightweight and porous. Do not use topsoil or soil dug up from your garden. Organic potting soil and organic fertilizer is recommended, as you will be eating these plants.
Then pick out your favorite cool-season plants. The plant tags are loaded with valuable growing information. Remember, basil, tomatoes and peppers are sensitive to the cold and prefer the summer heat. Lettuce, spinach and arugula, on the other hand, are perfect for cool temperatures.
Do not be afraid to experiment! Be creative when designing and planting your edibles in containers. You can choose to plant your edibles in a variety of ways:
• Create a salad bowl with a variety of lettuces and other leafy greens.
• Create an herb bowl with a variety of your favorite herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary.
• Create a mixed pot with spring flowers and edibles. Try daffodils, heather, daisies or pansies and violas.
• Use colorful Swiss chard and kale to add height to your plantings.
• Pair up plants based on flavor profiles. Create combinations you cook with.
• One word to the wise … some plants including mint are aggressive growers and can take over in a planting and best if planted alone.
Place your planted container in a sunny location where it will get full sun for at least six hours a day. Morning sun and protection from the hot afternoon rays is preferred for cool-season vegetables. Containers need consistent watering, so make sure you place it close to a convenient water source. Check the soil to see if it is dry by poking your finger into the soil. If it is dry at your knuckle, it is time to water. Water your container and make sure the water drains from the drainage hole. The larger the container, the longer you can go between waterings. Check the soil in your containers daily.
Most cool season edibles are very cold tolerant, but if the temperature drops near freezing, your plants will need to be protected. Cover them with a breathable fabric such as cotton or a frost blanket. Plastic covers are not recommended and be sure to uncover them as the temperature warms during the day.
Harvest your potted edibles as you need them. Pick the outer leaves of your greens to keep the plant producing new ones. Introducing an organic liquid fertilizer according to directions will also help them continue to grow and fill in after harvesting. Not only will your containers look beautiful and colorful, but you will also harvest these cool season edibles several times before the heat of summer.
Starting off the early spring growing season after a long winter with cool-season herbs, vegetables and edible flowers is invigorating, fun, rewarding and nutritious. Do not let this short but lovely season pass you by. Just remember, when the weather warms and some of the plants start to set seed or become bitter, know their time has passed. It is time to celebrate summer and consider refreshing your container with heat-loving edible plants like peppers, eggplant or even a patio tomato.