Like many gardeners, I’m always on the lookout for ways to grow more veggies. Extending the growing season is an excellent method for doing just that. Typical ways to extend the growing season include using black plastic to prewarm spring soil and erecting hoop tunnels to protect against frost damage. My favorite method for creating a longer growing season though is to utilize the benefits of container gardening.
Using Container Veggies to Extend the Growing Season
In my zone 6 garden, the outdoor growing season for frost-sensitive plants begins in late May and can end as early as mid-September. Outside of this growing period, we experience periodic cold snaps. Yet, there are still plenty of warm days suitable for growing frost-sensitive plants.
If there’s one distinct advantage to growing vegetable plants in containers, it’s mobility. I can easily move my container garden in and out of the house, which means I can extend the growing season by taking advantage of unseasonably warm days. With this method I’ve had ripe produce two to three weeks earlier in the summer and as much as two months later in the fall.
Plant Earlier, Harvest Later
When using container gardening to extend the growing season, I’ve found veggies like tomatoes and peppers work especially well. Both frost-sensitive species require several weeks for the fruit to develop. This means flowers can be pollinated outdoors late in the season, yet the fruit can continue to grow and ripen indoors long after we’ve had a killing frost.
Here are a few ‘container gardening tricks and tips’ I use to create a longer growing season:
- Start early – To get early “pre-season” ripe tomatoes and full-sized peppers from my container plants, I sow a few seeds three to four weeks ahead of the rest of my garden seedlings. In Ohio, this means starting my container veggie plants indoors in February rather than March.
- Transplant directly into containers – As soon as my container seedlings are big enough for transplanting, they go directly into their final home. This reduces transplant shock and helps my container plants become established earlier in the season.
- Harden off sooner – I find it’s much easier to move a few potted plants in and out of the house than multiple trays of garden-destined seedlings. This means my container veggies can begin acclimating to the outdoors whenever afternoon temps are above 55 degrees F. (13 C.).
- Thwart unexpected frosts – Late spring and early autumn cold snaps are fairly common in Ohio. Sheltering my container plants indoors for brief periods protects them from frost damage. My container garden can then be returned outdoors when temperatures rise to normal levels.
- Less end-of-the-season waste – It always pains me to find an abundance of immature fruit on my tomato and pepper plants when cleaning off the garden after a season-ending frost. By moving my container plants permanently into the house prior to the end of our growing season, this immature fruit can reach full maturity.
- Bonus veggies – I’m often able to grow “bonus” fruit by hand-pollinating those late-season flowers that appear after my container veggie plants have been moved indoors. A fluffed-up cotton swab, dabbed on each open flower, does the trick.