Monday, March 4, 2013

Zucchini and Melons in Containers

As the calendar flips to March we’re ever closer to warmer days and sunny afternoons in the garden! Since I’ve received a few questions on the topic, I thought I would take a few minutes to discuss my thoughts on growing squash and melons in containers.

This plant was just starting out... They get BIG!
 In terms of container size, I would go with at least a 5 gallon container, but that would be the bare minimum. Zucchini (and any squash really) gets huge and needs space to stretch out. Our plant last year was about 3 feet wide and a good 2-3 feet tall. It’s one thing to read that, but once you have a monster plant taking over your patio it’s quite another! Unlike tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, or even something like Okra, squash needs a lot of horizontal space. This can make it tough to fit into a patio garden, since you can squish a couple of tomato plants together (since they grow mostly up) but that is harder to do with something like zucchini.

These containers are the perfect size for many crops
This year I am going to use the square 6.5 gallon containers I bought from Home Depot and just plant one zucchini plant in each (one yellow and one green). As I’ve learned over the past couple years of doing this, you will get more (and bigger) fruit from one healthy properly spaced plant than two or three crowded (and consequently smaller) plants.

In terms of yield, a couple of plants should suffice. Zucchini plants are famous for being heavy yielders, and one plant will often produce several squash a week. In the height of the summer squash season you can pick three and six will take their place! As you can see, the plant we had was ramping up nicely with squash until the powdery mildew got it. This is probably the biggest threat (at least where we are in Western New York) and every year it rolls in like a plague, leaving dead cucumbers, melons, and squash, not to mention broken dreams, in its wake (squash, cucumbers, and melons are all related, and easily pass maladies back and forth in a small garden). I have read about a number of treatments for powdery mildew, but from what I’ve gathered the treatments are preventative in nature, not curative. But that’s another post!

These 12 gallon bins might even be a bit small for the melons...
That brings me to the bush sugar baby melons, which will be an experiment for us this year. I plan on using a flexible 12 gallon tub and planting a “hill” of 2-3 plants in the middle. What I’ve found is that the limiting factor in container size is often moisture content of the soil: the smaller the planter the more stress on the plant due to lack of moisture. Consider that the fruit of a watermelon is saturated with water, and it becomes clear that these are going to need a good amount of soil from which to draw that water.

According to the seed packet, these melons are space savers due to their bushy plants (rather than vines) but something tells me they are going to get pretty big, so I’m going to use the biggest container I have and give them a corner of the porch to themselves. Whereas the other plants are relatively easy to move (I brought the entire garden of huge tomato plants inside during an extremely strong wind/thunderstorm last summer) something like a melon with 5-7 pound fruits would be difficult to move without damaging the fruit and/or plant. The key will be to find a place that it can stay undisturbed for the entire season.

Lots of herbs sprouting!
 In order to give the melons a head start, I’m going to start them inside in a couple of weeks. Speaking of the seedlings, we’re getting more and more on the seed table!

A cumin seedling!
Until next time, happy gardening!

1 comment:

  1. It will be interesting to see how the watermelons fair! Also deciding to plant fewer summer squash spaced out better to try increase yields. One happy plant does seem to do so much better than a few crowded stressed one's. Thank you for your blog!