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Grow your own food with easy container gardens

 / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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Want to grow herbs, tomatoes and flowers with no fuss? All you need is a few pots and a place in the sun. "Real Simple" magazine shares important information on how to plan the ultimate edible garden:

A potted herb garden Bring summer in by sprinkling a tasty assortment of fresh herbs onto a salad or a pasta dish. Nothing’s more convenient than simply snipping sprigs of rosemary, basil, and thyme instead of driving to the store.

What to plant: Various herbs can share the same pot, but make sure they are compatible by reading the care tags. Water-loving basil and curly parsley (shown right) make good partners, whereas rosemary, sage, and oregano (rear) all prefer a slightly drier environment. Or try different varieties of one plant, such as common, lemon, and silver thyme (front).

Which pots to use: Classic terra-cotta pots are an excellent choice for container plantings because their porosity allows air and water to move through the walls, which is healthy for root development.

How to maintain: Most herbs are naturally low-maintenance — regular harvesting will keep the plants productive. But in the summer heat, your pots might need a drink almost every day if Mother Nature isn’t obliging.

Tip: To see if a plant needs watering, stick your finger a couple of inches into the soil. If it’s dry, add some H2O.

A potted salad gardenYou don’t need a full-out vegetable patch to grow vine-ripened tomatoes or even romaine or arugula. Just six hours of sun a day will yield a robust — and delicious — crop.

What to plant: Maximize your growing space by planting varieties that are bred to be compact. Look for words like bush, baby, dwarf, tiny, midget, and patio in the plant names and descriptions. Throw in nasturtiums for color. The edible, peppery flowers and leaves are great in salads.

Which pots to use: You’ll need relatively large containers for vegetables like tomatoes, which require at least five gallons of soil to develop a root system large enough to support a productive plant. Galvanized metal tubs and buckets make terrific planters — just drill holes in the bottom for drainage.

How to maintain: Stake and tie tall growers right away, and adjust the stakes as the plants gain height. Never let the soil dry out more than an inch below the surface, and harvest regularly so the plants don’t go to seed.

Tip: To ensure optimal results for all plantings, buy potting soil with compost and organic time-release fertilizer mixed into it.

A potted cutting garden
Flowers heighten your sense of well-being and reduce anxiety, according to a study from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. So grow your own — and enjoy the benefits of living with fresh blooms every day.

What to plant: It’s best to go with annuals, which blossom all season long. Especially good are showy types, including floss flowers (left), zinnias (right), and rudbeckia (center). For faster blooms, buy six-packs of seedlings (or slightly more developed plants in four-inch-diameter plastic pots) at your local garden center instead of starting from seed. When planting them, mix in a time-release all-purpose fertilizer to encourage continuous blooming.

Which pots to use: If you want a lightweight, unbreakable alternative to terracotta, opt for plastic pots shaped and finished to look like the real deal. They also retain moisture well and — bonus — are more weather-resistant.

How to maintain: It’s easy: Frequently cutting blossoms for the table stimulates plants to produce more flowers. And if your plants look wilted in the early morning, that means they need a drink.

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