Issue: February 5, 2005

Container gardening

Question:

Can I plant a container garden now?

Answer:

You can certainly plant a container garden now in any part of New Mexico. You may not be able to keep it outside at this time in much of the state, but you can plant it.

Container gardens are often the best (or only) choice for apartment and townhouse residents, but are very useful for any gardener. Such gardens consist of a single large container or several containers ranging in size from small flower pots to large planter boxes and half barrels. Even gardeners with sufficient outdoor space for a traditional garden may find that container gardening enhances their gardening opportunities.

In the southern part of the state, it will soon be warm enough to plant in the large outdoor containers. In the rest of the state, smaller containers that may be moved indoors on cold days and nights make sense. Until seeds germinate, the containers may be kept indoors in a warm environment that will speed germination.

Cool season flowers and vegetable crops such as calendula, pansy, lettuce, chard, the cole crops and other cold tolerant plants are those to be starting now. However, if you have room indoors for tomatoes, chiles, geraniums and other warm season plants to grow large, they can also be planted now to allow for flowering or harvest beginning in early summer when outdoor plants are just beginning to grow. This gives you a good start with warm season plants before the heat of the summer slows production of tomatoes and other vegetables.

Another advantage of container gardening is that you can tailor the soil to the needs of the crops more easily than in the native New Mexico soil. Most vegetables prefer a slightly acid soil. Our native soils tend to be anywhere from slightly alkaline to very alkaline. Container gardens may be relocated during the growing season to provide additional shade in mid-summer and more light early in the summer and in the fall. This is in addition to the ability to move the garden into the garage or another warm location when frost threatens.

While corn and a few other crops may not be as appropriate for container gardening as traditional outdoor planting, even they can be grown in containers. Many other plants respond very well to the container. This even includes watermelons (the smaller fruited varieties are best) trained to trellises (with the fruit supported in slings tied to the trellis). Bush-type squash, tomatoes, chiles, and almost any vegetable or flower you wish to plant can be grown in a container.

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Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or at https://www.facebook.com/DesertBloomsNM/. Please include your county Extension Agent (aces.nmsu.edu/county) and your county of residence with your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at