Grow a lot in a little space: edible container gardening

Has your desire to grow your own food been stymied by a lack of space or sun? You’re not alone – it’s a common scenario in our heavily wooded community. But don’t despair, containers might be your answer. With a bit of planning and minimal investment, you’ll amaze yourself with the bevy of edibles you can grow in just one pot, bucket, crate or barrel. And you’ll add beauty and interest to any landscape, balcony or patio. 

Where to start

Begin your plan with a list of vegetables you most enjoy. Then consider the season and planting time. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners’ Vegetable Planting Chart makes an excellent guide.  

Creating a beautiful edible container is as simple as following a recipe. When planting multiple varieties into one container, make the most of the space by including a: 

  • Thriller—a tall, showy  plant (perhaps your favorite variety of pepper) 
  • Spiller—a trailing/vining  plant (try your favorite squash—the flowers are also edible) 
  • Filler—smaller edibles to add color and texture (purple ruffle basil, bunching onions, oregano) 

Vegetables and herbs make fantastic companions. Basil and tomatoes, for example, complement each other just as well in a container as they do in a sauce. Learn more about growing herbs in Texas here.

Look for the largest possible plants to give your edible container a great start. Check with plant retailers, nurseries, and home improvement stores. Many groceries stock potted vegetables and herbs, as well. 

Gather supplies

As for containers, almost any type of material will do: terra cotta, fiberglass, wood, plastic or metal. Err on the side of a larger container to give your plants room to grow. In our hot climate, larger containers also do a better job of keeping roots moist. And make certain it has a drainage hole.

Spring for high quality potting soil. You’ll thank yourself – good soil is key to growing successful edibles. And spend a few extra dollars on quality fertilizer. Whether your gardening preference is organic or conventional, be sure to look for one labelled ‘slow release’ .

Vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sun. Walk around your yard at different times during the day to find the location that receives enough light. Once you’ve found the right space and gathered your supplies, it’s time to start planting. 

Plant and enjoy

Place your new edible container garden in the sunny location you selected and add soil. Gently transplant the plants from the nursery pots to the prepared large pot. Place the “thriller” plant in the center of the container. Add the “spiller plant(s) near the edge of the pot. Fill in with the “filler” plants. Fertilize using the label directions. Water thoroughly. Your edible garden is complete! Container gardens require early morning or late evening watering daily in the southeast Texas climate, unless rain occurs.

Enjoy these additional resources: 

Questions or comments? Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Gardening with Children: easy strategies during social distancing

With the extra time created by social distancing, gardening is an activity that children of all ages can enjoy. Simple and exciting gardening opportunities abound in your yard and even inside your home. Here are a few tips to get you started with minimal supplies and minimal cost.

Look around. Get Creative.

Take a quick inventory of your gardening supplies. Just a few simple tools that are needed to start: a spade or trowel, hoe or small gardening rake are essential. If a tool is missing, improvise using items from your home. No trowel? Use large cooking or serving spoons. Lacking a rake? Try a large cooking fork. Plastic milk cartons make excellent watering cans and soil scoops.

Younger children can use small recycled containers as soil scoops

Small cardboard containers or cans are useful seed starting pots. Your Sunday newspaper is perfect for creating paper pots. Older children will enjoy making these seed starting pots for the family.

Shop around

When making the weekly grocery trip, add gardening supplies to your list. Most groceries are currently stocking flower and vegetable seeds and potting soil. They’ll likely have a selection of vegetable and herb starts on hand, as well. Another great option for starts are your local plant retailers. Many are now offering online purchasing with curbside pickup.

Time to plant

Flowers and vegetables can be planted in the landscape or in containers. Soil for containers can be sourced from an existing landscape bed, or commercial potting soil may be used. If your supply of planting containers is scarce, check the recycling cart. Large plastic containers can be transformed into pots simply by punching drainage holes in the bottom. Giving children the freedom to plant seeds any way they wish is a satisfying activity. The seedlings can be separated later on as a new gardening activity. When the seeds sprout, the joy is obvious!

Gardening has many benefits that nourish the body, mind and soul. Spending time learning a new skill while enjoying nature is beneficial for all ages.

Caring for a garden can become a regular part of your child’s daily routine. Even the youngest child will quickly learn how to carefully water the growing plants.

Start each day off by checking on your growing garden and watch how quickly children will embrace their new sense of purpose and responsibility

Many online resources are available to support creative gardening activities with children.  Check this list for simple, practical ideas to get you started:

The joy of gardening and the skills children learn will benefit them all of their lives. Get outside and get growing!

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Plant A Piece Of The Universe In Your Garden

Sounds impossible? How can you plant something so infinite and so vast? Can you pluck a star out of the sky to fertilize, water and gaze upon?  Well, no. But what about a flower with a celestial name that’s as radiant as the sun: the yellow cosmos. An annual herb native to Mexico and northern regions of South America, this sunny yellow flower was favored by Spanish priests to adorn their mission gardens.

Cosmos sulphureous
The plant’s genus name (cosmos) derives from the Greek word ‘kosmos’ meaning beauty, while the species name (sulphureous) refers to the luminous yellow to orange flower.

Care and adaptability

Yellow cosmos prefer hot, dry weather and poor soil conditions. It is a perfectly adapted plant for southeast Texas gardens. Plant cosmos seeds when the soil is warm or around 65 degrees. For our region that can be as early as March and as late as September and October. Choose a location which receives 8-10 hours of full sun; too much shade reduces flower production. Cover seeds lightly with soil so they receive enough sunlight for germination. Keep the soil moist for 5-10 days after seeding. Look for sprouts in the next 7 to 21 days and soon after you will have a garden full of rays of sunshine beaming from your yellow cosmos.

Cosmos thrives on neglect!  If watered too frequently and fertilized too heavily, the plant will grow too tall, flop over and produce fewer flowers. Easy to care for cosmos can grow from 1.5 to 6 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide, forming a long taproot to reach water deep within the soil.  When other plants are struggling in 100-degree temperatures, cosmos thrive.  

Prolong the late summer to fall bloom time by removing dying flowers (deadhead) frequently. When seeds form, the plant may be cut back to encourage re-blooming. In late fall, stop deadheading to allow the plants to form seeds which attract small birds, particularly gold finches. Resistant to most pests and diseases, yellow cosmos is a valuable wildlife plant in the garden. 

The single yellow flowers are extremely attractive to butterflies, bees and beneficial insects such as lacewings and parasitic wasps which help control garden pests. Hummingbirds are attracted to the cosmos nectar while many small backyard birds love the seeds. Cosmos is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the flowering annuals most attractive to butterflies.

Beyond the garden

It is also easy to grow cosmos from seed in containers. Just remember to avoid over-fertilization and over-watering. If your garden is pesticide free, cosmos is edible and can be used as an attractive addition to salads.

Add a pop of color to your flower arrangement with some cut cosmos. When correctly harvested, cosmos arrangements can last 7-10 days. Select flowers that have just opened, cutting them early in the morning when the highest water content is contained in the stems. Immediately place the cut flowers in a container of lukewarm water and strip foliage from the stems to prevent decay. Bouquets of cosmos provide a light, airy, cheerful appearance. 

When the cosmos plant was introduced in Japan, it became very popular due to its light, airy appearance. Highly revered in Japan as the cultural meaning of the plant refers to cleanliness and beauty, many festivals celebrating the flower are held each fall.

Growing cosmos in southeast Texas is one of the easiest possible gardening projects. Fall planting time is now. Cosmos seeds are available at local home stores and from online retailers. Grow it and enjoy the other worldly results!


For more information on gardening, or to learn about the upcoming Pollinator Gardening class on October 26, 2019 visit http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov