How to Foodscape in Containers

Originally appeared at National Gardening Bureau

Foodscaping is a great way to maximize beauty and bounty throughout the growing season.

The Foodscape concept is simple: combine ornamental and edible plants together. It is all about making the most of the square footage you have access to, and containers are an ideal place to start!

Before you get started planting foodscape combinations, here a few important tips to keep in mind for a successful foodscaping experience!

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Full sun is best for traditional vegetables. 6-8 hours if direct light will ensure that you will have ample harvests through the season. However, some plants will perform in less exposure, particularly leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, and spinach.

Be sure to locate your container near a water source because you will have to keep your foodscape moist! Through the heat of the summer, container combinations get thirsty. Also, be sure to locate your pot in a convenient spot for harvesting. One of my favorite areas to display foodscape containers is right outside my kitchen door. This is a spot that I walk past regularly, have a hose adjacent, and is easy to harvest from.

Types of Containers

There are so many different types of containers and any pot will work. I love using 5–10-gallon plastic pots because they are large enough to fit 4-7 different plants for dynamic combinations. are the easiest to create combinations.  Plastic containers are also less expensive and lighter to move compared to large glazed and terra cotta pots.

Grow bags are another wonderful option and are inexpensive and easy to plant. These fabric bags are permeable, meaning they drain well and will require regular watering. They come in all different sizes from small 1-gallon bags to 100 Gallon bags.

Soil & Mulch

Traditional potting soil works well for foodscape containers. My recommendation is to use the soil you are experienced with.  After planting be sure to mulch your pot with your choice of top dressing.  This will help maintain moisture and eliminate any soil splash during heavy rainstorms.  I use triple shred hardwood mulch most often, but also recommend pea gravel, and even well-washed shells. Ultimately mulch just makes your foodscape containers look more professional.

Fertilizer

As an organic gardening, I recommend natural fertilizers which will lead you to long-term success. One of the main things to avoid with fertilizer is using a ratio that is too strong.  That can lead to the plants growing excessively and then succumbing to insect infestations.

I apply fish emulsion or liquid kelp to all my containers once a month May – September to ensure all the plants get the nutrient they need to thrive.

Insect Control

Insects infestations are usually much lower when growing in containers. However, if you have a sudden outbreak of aphids, whiteflies, or mealybugs, insecticidal soap is the easiest and safest remedy. And you can even make your own!

Ingredients:

  • Soap: Pure Castille soap has fatty acids and dissolves in water
  • Water: Tap or distilled depending on your water quality
  • Bottle:  1 quart of water per 1 tablespoon of soap

How To:

  1. Fill a 1-quart spray bottle up with warm water
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of soap
  3. Screw on the lid and shake to mix well

Variations:

  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar will help with powdery mildew
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil will allow the spray to stick longer

Caterpillars can also commonly cause damage to your favorite summer veggie plants. The easiest and safest way to control problem caterpillars such as cabbage worms and tomato hornworms is by applying Bacillus thuringeiensis (BT). This bacterium is rated as organic and is safe to apply on food crops.

Foodscape in Containers is a great way to maximize beauty and bounty throughout the growing season. - National Garden Bureau
Foodscape in Containers is a great way to maximize beauty and bounty throughout the growing season - National Garden Bureau
Foodscape in Containers should include a thriller, spiller and filler - National Garden Bureau

Warm Season Foodscape Combinations

The sky is the limit when it comes to foodscape combinations. Always grow what you love, both aesthetically and from a practical eating standpoint. The general rule of including a “thriller”, “filler”, and “spiller”

  • Fruiting plant (tomato, pepper, eggplant) = Thriller
  • Foliage/ Flowers (coleus, angelonia, plectranthus) = Filler
  • Colorful vines (sweet potato, creeping Jenny, petunia) = Spiller
  • Groundcover Herbs (oregano, thyme, creeping rosemary, sage) = Spiller

Summer Rice Planting

Have you ever considered growing your own summer rice? Oryza sativa is a fantastic summer-loving grain and is an ideal plant for gardeners that live in regions that are hot and humid. It also thrives in containers with no drainage holes! It will look beautiful all summer, and the local birds will appreciate it as they usually steal the ripe seed first!

No, this won’t replace your need to buy rice at the grocery store, but it is a unique growing experience that everyone should have!

Cool Season Foodscape Combinations

To extend the gardening season consider growing frost-tolerant plants. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Grains (barley, oats, wheat) = Thriller
  • Brassica (kale, cabbage, broccoli, mustard, etc) = Filler
  • Ornamental Flowers (pansy, snapdragons, violas) = Filler
  • Groundcover Herbs (oregano, thyme, creeping rosemary) = Spiller
Grains do well in Foodscaping Containers
Growing Grains for Foodscape Containers
Grains do well in Container Foodscaping

Gardening with Grains in Containers

Grains are a great candidate to be grown in containers as the “thriller” element, like how Purple Fountain grass is used. There are a lot of different grain plants to choose from.

A few of the best performers in containers include:

  • Barley – Horedeum vulgare
  • Oats- Avena sativa
  • Wheat- Triticum aestivum

The process for planting is simple:

  1.  Fill a pot that has drainage holes with soil – I like using 5-7-gallon sized pots
  2. Scatter grain seed on top of the soil
  3. Lightly cover the seed with soil
  4. Top dress with the mulch of your choice to reduce soil splatter and make it look professional
  5. Grains will germinate outside in roughly 2 weeks and grow all season

Remember, that just like many ornamental grasses, grains prefer to be grown in full sun, with moist, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH. Though they are adapted to adverse environments, the advantage of growing grains in containers is that you can provide the ideal conditions to maximize their growth. Compared to more commonly cultivated plants, such as tomatoes, grains are the easiest plant in the world to grow!

I hope you will be inspired to create some foodscape container combinations this growing season and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Written By: Brie Arthur
Author of: Gardening with Grains

“This post is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members. Please credit and link to National Garden Bureau and author member when using all or parts of this article.”

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