Depending on your location, you may be just arranging some cool weather annuals in your spring containers, or you may be already looking toward changing those out for a permanent summer planting.  Either way, once you know you're frost free it will be time to trot off to the nursery and decide what will fill your racks and baskets this year.  We'd like to suggest something different for those of you bored with the same old, same old.  So if you're feeling just a little adventurous, read on!

Edible plants and container gardening are still hot trends, so that means more dwarf plants on the market than ever before.  Some make excellent components for your basket and rack plantings. We suggest:

  • Peppers: 

Whether hot or sweet, they're attractive and easy to grow.  Most of the dwarf varieties will grow about 8-16 inches tall, so depending on the size of your container they may have the role of filler or thriller.

 Thai hot peppers are definitely one of the best. They make a robust and tidy plant 8-12" high and wide, which can be covered with as many as 200 small green fruits maturing to red.  About 20 times hotter than a Jalapeno, they are used in Asian cuisine, eaten fresh, or pickled.  This one is so cute you'll want to put it in a pot and bring it in for winter, where it will grow happily on a sunny windowsill.  Just pick off the unused peppers as they wrinkle and keep fertilized, and your baby should keep producing.

Mirasol is a green to red hot pepper that is used dried in Mexican mole sauce.

If you prefer a milder choice, Redskin bears 4-5 inch fruit while Jingle Bells produces smaller 1-2" peppers, both green to red sweet bells.  Snackabelle Red (pictured) is a compact growing variety with sweet 2" peppers that hold up well to stuffing and grilling. For a totally unique  look, blend Albino Bullnose sweet peppers, with white fruit turning slowly to deep reddish orange, with Supertunia® Latte, white euphorbia, and black sweet potato vine.

"Ornamental" peppers that you may find at your nursery may sport multi-colored fruits and foliage, but are unfortunately much too hot to be of much culinary value.  They do, however, make a spectacular show all summer until frost, and mix well with other annuals.

  • Tomatoes: 

If you wanted to forgo those geraniums in one or two of your racks or baskets this summer, you could plant tomatoes.  Yes, I said tomatoes!  Newer smaller-fruited varieties bred specifically to trail, as well as some popular old favorites, like Sweet 100, will do just fine in your hayracks or baskets, providing you keep the watering consistent.  That’s the caveat for any tomato in a container—inconsistent watering reduces calcium uptake, which leads to blossom end rot.  Using Rain Mats or Rain Gel can alleviate this problem. Make sure your soil still drains well--constantly saturated soil will result in root rots.

In smaller baskets and racks, use determinate varieties like Tumbling Tom, Tumbling Tiger, Micro Tom, or Tidy Treats.

Larger containers may accommodate indeterminate cherry types like Sweet 100 or Sungold--minimum 1 square foot of soil volume or 5 gallon capacity per plant.  Don't overplant as it will just make the watering issue a bigger problem.

 

  • Summer Spinach:

Ok, not TRUE spinach, but Popeye-approved substitutes that can be cooked and eaten just like the real thing. But, these will grow in the heat of summer.  Both have interesting foliage and a trailing habit.

New Zealand Spinach has slightly fuzzy leaves a bit smaller than regular spinach.  In areas with intense summer heat it may appreciate some afternoon shade. Plan on 2 plants per 5 gallons of soil.  Height is usually about a foot, but they are weak-stemmed and will likely flop over.  From seed, they should be ready to harvest in about 60 days. Pick young leaves and stem tips for cut and come again cropping.

Red Malabar Spinach is so gorgeous you might want to grow it even if you disagree with Popeye's culinary choices.  Glossy green, textured heart-shaped leaves on red stems that can grow 8-10 feet will rival the glory of any sweet potato vine.  You'll have plenty for salad and your container won't miss a beat!  

We'll return next week with some more great ideas for you, so check back!