Can I grow fall crops in pots?
Q: I have a small garden. It’s full of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and herbs. I want to plant some fall crops like spinach, broccoli, lettuce, radish, etc. By the time my summer crops are done in October, I don’t think there will be time to grow the fall crops before winter sets in. Can I grow them in pots?
A: Sure, you can grow them in pots! Start now in late summer by direct sowing in pots. I like pots 14” in diameter or larger. Bigger pots stay cooler, providing a better root environment for most plants. Direct sow crops like spinach, broccoli, lettuce, radish, peas, fava, etc. in the big pots as early as late July and as late as mid-September. Check the seed packages for “days to harvest”. Count backwards from a desired harvest date such as October 15 and you’ll know your sow date. If hard frost threatens the potted vegetables, cover them with frost cloth for temperatures down to 25 degrees F and move the pots into the garage or shed if temperatures are dipping lower. Use a good quality potting mix (you get what you pay for with potting soil) and add a few handfuls of manure/compost blend and a small amount of organic fertilizer. Keep the seed pots constantly moist until germination is finished then water as needed.
Alternatively, start vegetables in small, 2 or 3-inch pots in July or August then transplant them into the bigger pots once they are big enough or into the main vegetable garden as you remove the summer vegetables. Keep frost cloth handy for the occasional frost in the fall.
The third option is to plant in the main garden once it’s cleaned of summer vegetables in September or October. Build or buy garden hoops or arches and keep covered with frost cloth during the entire crop. The cloth-covered hoops will trap plenty of solar energy keeping the vegetable plants warm and helping to keep insects, birds and squirrels OUT!
Kelly Grummons is a regional horticultural expert whose main interest lies in plants for the low water landscape. He is Chief Horticulturist for Paulino Gardens in Denver.