What to do with vegetable seedlings when I have no garden
April 30, 2021 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I am not a gardener. I have no garden. I just received a gift of ten different young vegetable plants. Help.

I was just gifted an assortment of very young vegetable plants from Burpee. These are tiny plants that shipped in tiny pots. The instructions tell me to harden them off (a term I had not heard before a few days ago) for a few days and then plant them outside. I have no real gardening experience and no garden.

I live in North Carolina, so our soil is generally clay, and our yard gets plenty of sun. I'm the sort of person who has a few very low maintenance plants in the house that thrive on neglect. While I am fine with doing some yard work here and there, I'm not committed to adding gardening as one of my main hobbies at this time in my life.

Our yard has lots of weeds, poison ivy, bugs, slugs, rabbits, deer, and other creatures. We've already had days approaching 90 degrees this season and will have plenty more of those in the near future. I have what's basically a patch of dirt behind the house that seems the most likely area to put these, but it's not any kind of maintained garden space. I am up for planting these in some sort of container(s) but I don't even know where to begin choosing that sort of thing.

The plants include a variety of peppers, eggplant, tomato, blackberries, tea, artichoke, and herbs.

What can I do that doesn't require a ton of money and upkeep and time spent crawling all over the ground that might that give these plants a decent chance of producing vegetables?
posted by bananana to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there any sort of community garden that you can attend periodically?

Herbs you can probably grow indoors with something like aerogardern tabletop setups, but not the other stuff.
posted by kschang at 2:57 PM on April 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

You could gift them to your neighbors who do gardening? Otherwise, you could transfer them into pots with soil and let them grow until you decide what to do with them.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: What can I do that doesn't require a ton of money and upkeep and time spent crawling all over the ground that might that give these plants a decent chance of producing vegetables?

Pick your battles on what you actually have the motivation to keep alive, and for how long. The peppers, eggplant, tomato, and non-hardy herbs are annuals. The ones that produce a fruit you pick will need a lot of water and more space; the ones that produce leaves you eat will need less, but everything's going to need more water if kept in containers than in the ground, and 5 gallon containers (the minimum for a tomato or pepper, really) are expensive. I'd give some away that you don't care as much about.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:04 PM on April 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I live in NYC and have a container vegetable garden. I would recommend:

5 to 7 gallon pots for the peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. They will also need tomato cages or stakes eventually. I bought a dozen 7-gallon felt planting bags for like $20 on Amazon; a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom also works and is much cheaper than buying a pot that size.

1 to 2 gallon pots for the herbs.

For the blackberries, I personally would plant them in a corner of your yard.

Artichokes and tea, no clue - but artichokes are actually flowers, and might look nice planted in your front yard.

You should be able to order bulk potting soil from a landscaping place or hardware store.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:07 PM on April 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Are you on NextDoor? You could offer them to people in your area who have the time and interest in gardening.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Oh a couple additions:

-You might want to get some tomato fertilizer for the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. My peppers last year had a calcium deficiency that damaged the fruit until I treated it. The tomato kind will work for all these plants as they are all in the nightshade family.
-In the hottest months of summer I have to water my garden in the morning and evening every day. Pots don’t retain water as well as the ground does.
-Don’t give them away! Posting this question shows you’re interested enough to give it a shot and you might just love it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:21 PM on April 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have no advice for blackberries or tea, my response addresses only the common summer vegetables and herbs:

Do you have a spot in your yard that will be sunny for more than 6 hours where you could put containers to grow stuff in without tripping over them or impeding traffic? If so, order 4-6 of these $3 fabric pots. (I'll dig into the math of how many pots later in this post)

While you wait for them to ship (I'm local, but I understand they cross the country quickly), you can put the plants on a patio or shaded area outside (an hour or two of direct sun at beginning or end of day is fine) inside some kind of storage bin, dish tub, or other waterproof basin. Water them until there is half an inch of water collected in the bin, and let them drink from that and refill when dry - depending on your weather that could be three days or half a day.

Buy about 2 cubic feet of container soil per fabric pot you ordered, and when the pots come dump the dirt in them. Container soil will be outside at your big box hardware store or garden center, in large bags. It is easier to carry the 1.5cuft bags than the 2s, if you're not super strong. This soil will say on it somewhere whether or not it is suitable for containers, get the stuff that is. I like Kellogg's Patio Plus and Kellogg's Gromulch (for mulching after you're done with all the planting) but they aren't sold in all markets. You should pay in the range of $6-8/bag for this stuff.

When you put the dirt in the bags, you can optionally spread out cardboard or landscape fabric (available in rolls from the same supplier as the bags, but you can get much smaller quantities at your garden/hardware store) to put the bags on top of. That will stop weeds and garbage grass from booming delightedly between your pots full of delicious nutrients and water. It will not stop all slugs, but between the ground cover and the bag fabric they are pretty well kept away.

Bag math: Generally, in each of those 10gal short bags, you can put two eggplant plants, three peppers, or one tomato. You can shove in a lot of herbs around the tomato and a few around the eggplants, by the time it gets big they will appreciate the shade it gives.

The bags help tremendously with slugs and other low varmints. I buy several bags of 6' bamboo stakes (6 per bag I think), from any garden center, and I cut them into 2' stakes I can insert into the bags right between the fabric and the soil. 3-4 around a bag helps keep the edges of the bag really taut and discouraging to slightly taller varmints. If deer can walk right up to this, you may have to do more to freak them out to stay away.

Water your plants. I advise all new gardeners to do it by hand before deciding to get a simple drip irrigation system, but for a lot of new gardeners it's forgetting to do this that is your biggest problem, especially in hot and not especially rainy climates. Plan to go visit your garden every day at the same time, and take the hose when you go, and water them if their soil is really dry an inch down. (In very very hot weather, you may want to pick up some shade cloth, which your garden centers will often sell on a big roll and cut off however much you want. You can also buy it in packages. Use some stakes to tent that shade cloth over stuff, like you're trying to hide it from helicopters.)

But if you don't want to do all of this, find your local BuyNothing group and offer them up. You don't have to if it's not your thing, but it is fun to try if you think you might like it.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:01 PM on April 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you can keep the animals from devouring the blackberry plant the first year, and give them a big enough space, they will take over deliciously.
posted by Night_owl at 5:02 PM on April 30, 2021

Best answer: Peppers work well in containers and herbs are a delight to have on hand. The blackberries form thickets--do you want a thicket of thorny blackberries? If so, just plant them in an out of the way place in sun and let them fight it out. Eggplant and tomato I think are also reasonable to try in containers. Go to a garden center, ask for container soil. Ask about container size.

Herbs are an enormous continuum but given ???? plant them in full sun and see what happens. A lot of herbs will put up with anything (sage, mint, chives, oregano). Just try to water them occasionally as they get established. Basil requires a bit more attention and can be put in container soil--it would be happy nestled in with the tomatoes.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:14 PM on April 30, 2021

Best answer: Came to also suggest fabric pots. They’re flexible, easy to grow lots of crops in, and you can just move them easily. We have established beds but we just end up doing peppers and tomatoes in the fabric bags because they just tend to do better in them. Vining crops light still need a lattice or trellis or something to climb, but they’re a cheap, nice solution if you don’t have or want to really get into making and maintaining beds.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:43 PM on April 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

For the blackberries, I personally would plant them in a corner of your yard.

If you do this, then both you and your neighbours will end up fighting nasty spiny prolifically sprouting weeds for generations.

Blackberry vines are complete bastards and the fact that birds like them so much and the seeds go straight through a bird without taking any damage and then get planted at random complete with a dollop of fertilizer makes them doubly so.

Container and bird mesh or just don't.
posted by flabdablet at 1:44 AM on May 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The peppers, eggplant, tomato, and non-hardy herbs are annuals.

This honestly took a huge amount of weight off my shoulders. I had no idea these plants will die over the winter. Here I was imagining years of needing to maintain all of these. :cries:

Thank you all for the informative responses. I am going to try to see what I can do with some of these inexpensive container options.

This are the specific variety of blackberry. I was reading a bit about blackberries and it seems like a lot of these commercial varieties aren't the kind that will become invasive. I hope. I won't plant it against my neighbor's yard, anyway. There is also a loganberry and I think those two plants will need to battle it out in the same area.

I have no idea where to put THREE ARTICHOKE PLANTS as much as I love artichokes (and will these even grow in North Carolina? No idea!). I will likely give one of those away to an adventurous gardener neighbor.
posted by bananana at 5:47 AM on May 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

The artichokes are biannual and probably won't produce artichokes this year. (They have to go through a winter first.) The get huge and have interesting looking foliage though. I'd put them in the ground in full sun, somewhere where a 3 foot in diameter ferny spikey plant would look cool. Water deeply several times a week and don't stress over them. I've never successfully gotten artichokes from mine but they're fun to look at anyway.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2021

Response by poster: If anyone's checking back, 3 weeks later all the plants are still alive. I was talking to my gardener neighbor about my situation, and she turned around and gave me three more vegetable plants because she doesn't have room for all of them - two more tomatoes and a cucumber. ::cries:: I'm doing my best!
posted by bananana at 4:00 PM on May 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you can hang up a couple of square metres of chicken wire mesh somewhere near the cucumber plant to give it something to grab onto and crawl over, it will spread itself out to get loads of sunshine and make more cucumbers for you than you'll know what to do with. Keep an eye on the way the plant finds the mesh with its little tendrils and then latches on - it's fascinating.

That whole cucurbit family - cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin, squashes - can be just ridiculously prolific with fruit if you give them soil with plenty of compost in it, plenty of sunshine, and a good deep watering every two to three days. Watering them low and slow so you don't splash the leaves will help discourage powder mildew, a common fungal leaf disease in that family.

One good way to get quite large amounts of water in amongst their roots without needing to hang about forever with a dribbling watering can in your hand is to use watering spikes.
posted by flabdablet at 4:06 AM on May 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well..... All of the plants survived the whole growing season! I did my final harvest today because we have a frost coming soon. I put a bunch of green tomatoes in a bag with an apple. Maybe that will work.

So, the plants in plastic pots or grow bags on the deck all did pretty well (although I wouldn't recommend putting a vining cucumber in a pot, it will get very sad after a while and repotting it by that time is a struggle to say the least).

The ones I put in the ground are still alive but not exactly thriving. I didn't realize until a while later that particular bed is full of tree roots from the crepe myrtle a few feet away. Also, the blackberry was growing nicely until all of its canes got cut to the ground by an errant weed whacker, which made me sad, although it has tried very hard to grow back. Not sure the canes will be long enough to get any berries next year if it survives the winter.

So, my main takeaways are these:

- Plants want to grow, and as long as you give them decent soil and a big enough pot and enough sunlight and the right amount of water and you live in the right climate, they will grow.
- Once you get past the initial baby plant stage, you still have to worry about bugs and diseases and so on for the rest of the season. I had no idea there are things called cucumber beetles until they appeared on my cucumber plant.
- Shishito peppers are the easiest and most prolific of all the things I had. I put that plant in a simple 3-gallon nursery pot and it had way too many peppers on it all summer. It was also the plant the insects were least interested in.
- Just because someone says you can grow a tomato in a 5 gallon pot doesn't mean you should put two tomato plants in a 10 gallon pot.
- A single indeterminate tomato plant in a 10 gallon grow bag can grow so top heavy that it falls over, cage, bag and all.
- If you hate eggplant, you probably won't like rosa bianca eggplants even though people insist they aren't bitter. They do still taste like eggplant.

So at this point, my tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers are done. The artichokes, loganberries, and blackberries aren't supposed to get any fruit until year two, so I'll see if they survive the winter. I understand that I'm supposed to keep the artichoke's roots from freezing, so I'll see what I can do. The only artichoke that grew very well of the three I had is the one I put in a 10 gallon grow bag.

The tea plant barely grew at all and it got pretty chewed up, but it is still alive and even got one pretty tea flower on it a couple weeks ago.

I would do some of this again by choice, but I would take care to select varieties specifically for growing in pots and probably not get 12 of them.

Thank you again for your encouragement and advice! I have now gardened!
posted by bananana at 8:00 PM on November 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would take care to select varieties specifically for growing in pots and probably not get 12 of them.

No, get 24 instead. Diversity in a garden makes it stronger.
posted by flabdablet at 9:31 PM on November 2, 2021

And if you can't think of 12 extra kinds of vegetables, grow 12 kinds of flowers amongst them instead.
posted by flabdablet at 3:45 AM on November 3, 2021

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