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MIKE MAURER: Container gardening offers easier way to grow herbs, veggies

Sandoval County Master Gardener Mike Maurer has experience as a container gardener. He grows vegetables and herbs in containers, and encourages others to try it. (Courtesy photo)

Sandoval County Master Gardener Mike Maurer has experience as a container gardener. He grows vegetables and herbs in containers, and encourages others to try it. (Courtesy photo)

I would like to encourage you to try container gardening, especially if your space is limited, your physical activity is curtailed or maybe time constraints don’t allow you to have a big garden.

Maybe you already have a conventional garden, but the idea of having some favorite vegetables or herbs just outside your door sounds interesting.

For a variety of reasons having a container garden makes a lot of sense. If you have just one houseplant, you are already container-gardening.


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I would like you to try a few vegetables and herbs. Think about it: If you can grow petunias in a pot, you can grow peppers in a pot. Many grow strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and herbs — all and more are possible in containers.


The advantages are numerous: Preparation is much simpler than for a full-size garden; you are simply filling a container with soil. Weeding is almost eliminated and pests are more easily controlled in a small space. If you encounter a soil-born problem, simply dump out the contaminated soil and start with fresh. Also, containers can be mobile.

Now, if I’ve talked you into trying container gardening, the first thing to consider is sunlight.


Vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and all fruits need about six hours of sunlight. If the plant part we eat is a leaf like spinach, lettuce, or kale, or grows in the ground like radishes and carrots, then these can get by on three or four hours of sunlight.

Southern exposure is the best, followed by western, then east and lastly northern. Any exposure will work; you will need to choose your vegetables according to the amount of sunlight available.

I have been growing chard, lettuce, some beans, basil, oregano, Columbine, Johnny Jump-ups and even sunflowers on the north side of my house.


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But don’t forget, this is New Mexico. We have to make sure the plants don’t get too much sun, heat and wind.

You may have to create some artificial shade or wind protection. Tall or top-heavy plants may have to be attached to something to keep from blowing over.

Some temporary protection may be needed to keep strong winds from damaging the plants.


The second thing to consider is what you are going to use as a container. Almost anything will work: clay pots, plastic nursery containers, (especially 5 gallons or bigger), wood boxes and concrete can make good containers. Lately, grow bags are becoming popular.

Buckets, large cans, barrels, old large colanders, wash tubs, wheel barrows — I even saw a huge community garden planted entirely in plastic milk crates. I once saw some plants growing in old western boots. Don’t forget hanging baskets.


The next item to consider is soil. Dirt from your yard is not recommended. Most of our soils lack organic matter.

Instead, opt for a soil-compost mix. You can purchase compost for a reasonable cost at the Sandoval County landfill. They charge $6 for a trailer or $12 for a truck load.

If you can get several neighbors involved, this might be a good option.

Another option is making your own soil mix. Books I have read recommend mixing compost with one part peat moss to one part vermiculite. Then you can add any amendments your plants might need.


Deciding what to grow is based on what you like to eat and what your conditions will allow. But by all means, grow what you like to eat.

For those just starting out, I would recommend buying plants from a local nursery. Tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, herbs and all manner of vegetables and flowers can be purchased at our local nurseries or big-box stores.

Check out, which lists nearly 4,000 different tomatoes.

Be sure to pick one that won’t get too large for your container. There are many tomatoes that have been developed specifically for containers or compact spaces.

Hot and sweet pepper plants, being naturally smaller, are perfect for containers. I grow all of my bell, jalapenos and cooking peppers in containers.

Herbs are also perfect for containers.

I fell in love with basil the first time I brushed by a plant and smelled the wonderful aroma. I have 17 varieties in my container garden.

I can also recommend any of the onion family, garlic, scallions, multiplier and leeks.

Lettuce, radishes, beans, peas and carrots do well in containers but should be started from seed. You can also find bush cucumbers that grow in containers.

Many seed catalogs list vegetables that are great for containers. Add to this list a simple garden trowel, some hand pruners and a stick or dowel pointed for a dribble, and you have about all the tools you’ll need.


If you would like to start some of your own plants, I encourage you to attend “Gardening with the Masters” held at Meadowlark Senior Center from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month.

On April 1, the topic will be “Growing Culinary Herbs.”

On Feb. 26, Stephanie Walker of New Mexico State University will have a seed-saving workshop at the Sandoval County Extension Office from 9 to 11 a.m.

This year, Sandoval County Master gardeners have established the Sandoval County Seed Library at the Esther Bone Memorial Library.

You can select seeds you would like to try and replace them with seeds that you have collected from your plants at the end of the season. Membership is free.

For more gardening and class information, call the Sandoval County Master Gardener Hotline at 867-2582.