Gardening in California: What to do with a DEEP container?
April 9, 2016 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Short version: I have a crate that is 50 inches long, 20 inches wide, and 35 inches deep. What plants have roots that can take advantage of the depth, but don't need much space to spread laterally? Long version:

I have a container garden with pots and boxes of various sizes and shapes. Recently I acquired a crate of unusual dimensions which I would like to turn into a planter. It's 50 inches long, 20 inches wide, and 35 inches deep.

Let's assume I fill the box with soil. What plants have roots that can take advantage of the depth, but don't need much space to spread laterally? Are tomatoes in this category? Alternatively, could I drill holes in the side and have plants growing out of the side of the box? And in each of these cases, what's a good watering strategy?

(Location: Oakland, CA. I'm equally interested in plants grown for food and plants grown for their appearance.)
posted by aws17576 to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tomatoes - no, You can plant them in grow bags, which are only a few inches deep.

In a three foot deep container, I'd probably try potatoes. Start them off in about a foot of soil and keep 'earthing up' until you fill the container. That ought to produce an impressive crop.

Can't think of much else that would need three feet of soil - carrots, parsnips and onions, etc. don't need much more than a foot of soil, unless you're growing for show. Daikon are long, but not anywhere close to 35".
posted by pipeski at 9:37 AM on April 9, 2016

How about putting it against a wall for an espaliered fruit tree?
posted by congen at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Many plants will send roots down much deeper than 35". Tomatoes definitely will (59" in this study!), but even plants like lettuce will send taproots below 35". Sure, these plants don't absolutely need deep soil, but they do benefit from it.

I'd certainly look at tomatoes as my first choice (four full size plants in this planter, indeterminate varieties with something to tie them to so they use less space horizontally), potatoes (starting them about halfway down and then adding soil to promote more tuber production), brussels sprouts, cabbage, tomatillo, and so on. Basically anything that takes a long time to grow probably sends down some deep roots.
posted by ssg at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2016

Tomatoes are reliable enough for me that they would be my first choice. I'm less certain about citrus in Northern California, but potted dwarf lime or meyer lemon trees are common down here.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:08 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does the crate have solid sides or is it made with slats?
posted by dilettante at 10:09 AM on April 9, 2016

Never mind, excuse the failure to catch that you can drill holes in the side.
posted by dilettante at 10:11 AM on April 9, 2016

Put a bench in the crate so you don't have to fill it with soil. That is going to be a bear to manage if you put 35" of soil in it and also expensive.

Alternatively a lot of trees etc will do well in this scenario for many years. You could plant a couple citrus/ bay/ decorative trees, if it's warm enough to overwinter them outside.

Asparagus would also work if you're not in a super cold area and is a perennial so you don't have to change the dirt ever.
posted by fshgrl at 10:44 AM on April 9, 2016

What about potatoes? Can you cut another hole in the side as a harvest area and grow potatoes?
posted by kellyblah at 11:07 AM on April 9, 2016

Why not something bushy or a small tree - rosemary would probably appreciate the depth and rosemary is awesome!
posted by Toddles at 12:50 PM on April 9, 2016

Mmm, rosemary and lavender pruned into a tapestry hedge.
posted by clew at 1:09 PM on April 9, 2016

Crate implies wood - if so consider that fill dirt is very likely to apply force outward on sides, lots of force. Do you have easy access to soil mix for fill? Tomatoes will grow in relatively shallow containers but they'll thrive in deeper soil. As said above tomato roots commonly go down more than 2 feet where not limited. Apple trees grow well at the Muir home in Martinez, should do well in Oakland too. A multi variety grafted apple or Asian pear should do well but would not have much of a harvest until around three year years old.

Would it be possible to cut the crate into two pieces? Make one open bottom raised bed to join the others in your garden and a second with closed bottom.

Micro spray emitters supplied by half or five eighths inch tube should work for irrigation. I use them throughout my garden. Several different volumes of flow rate sprayers available and spray angles of 45, 90, 180 degrees. Full circle and "bow tie" emitters too. For a box cut tube to length for all sides, 90 degree fittings for each corner. I cut each side length in half and use straight connectors to join them. That allows you to twist the supply tube to adjust the up/down angle of the spray.
posted by X4ster at 1:10 PM on April 9, 2016

Email me if you'd like to see example images of irrigation set-up.
posted by X4ster at 1:14 PM on April 9, 2016

You could use the depth for sub-irrigation, a water chamber in the base that wicks into the soil without saturating it. Look up earth boxes or SIP gardening.
posted by clew at 1:15 PM on April 9, 2016

posted by clorox at 1:07 AM on April 10, 2016

I'd suggest growing nagaimo since it has extraordinarily long tubers that would make use of that depth of soil, but it's an invasive so you'd want to be very careful if going that route.
posted by jackbishop at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2016

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