Most gardeners are ready for spring long before the soil gets warm and workable, which is a great reason to grow a few cool-season edibles in containers. Soil in pots warms up quickly on mild spring days, contributing to strong plant growth. Should the weather turn nasty, simply bring your containers indoors to wait out the storm in your basement or bathtub. On nice days when you can sit outside, move the pots to where you can admire the plants’ exuberant growth.
Cool-Season Plants for Early Planting
For now the best choices are cool-season plants, which start growing when soil temperatures rise into the 50°F (10°C) range. They also should be petite plants that won’t be stressed by growing in small containers. Lettuce, spinach, parsley, radishes, baby bok choy and onions are solid candidates, along with edible flowers including calendulas, pansies, and Johnny jump-ups. Strawberries like an early start in containers, too, and Ben has a great tutorial on growing strawberries in pots. When transplanted to containers, chives take off like rockets.
Here are more proven ideas to get you started growing cool-season edibles in containers.
Direct-Seed Little Vegetables in Containers
Baby bok choy, arugula, dwarf chard, and small salad radishes do surprisingly well when sown in their own little pots. I like to keep the seeded pots indoors under lights until the seeds germinate, and then move them to a protected spot on my deck. Thinning the seedlings is mandatory, because you want the plants to have ample room to grow plenty of leaves. Broad leaves are fine solar collectors, so expect faster growth of leafy greens as the days get longer.
Pair Up With Pansies
Whether you like them big and bright or small and muted, the bright faces of pansies should be part of your spring palette. Large-flowered pansies produce fewer blossoms compared to little Johnny jump-ups, and the small-flowered types are also more resilient when faced with harsh weather. All pansies bounce back quickly after passing hard freezes. Once blooming gets underway with any type of pansy, the pots can quickly be moved to where they look best. Pansy petals are beautiful and have a slightly minty, lettuce-like flavor, so they often are used in both salads and desserts.
Pansies pair beautifully with lettuce, which grow so quickly that it is harvested before the pansies reach full size. Baby bok choy would work well, too, as would onions being grown to be harvested as scallions.
Harvest Early Onions and Chives
Exposure to a prolonged period of cold weather can cause bulb onions to develop big flowers and seed heads instead of robust roots, but this is not a concern when you plan to harvest onions as green onions, or scallions. Go ahead and poke a few sets into a pot of soil, or do the same with 1-inch (2.5 cm) long rooted scallion pieces saved from a purchased bunch. Within a couple of weeks, you will be pinching tender onion tops to sprinkle on your soup.
I have both chives and garlic chives in my garden, and it takes only a minute to cut away a few crowns to include in containers plugged with parsley seedlings. Your yard may offer other treasures to dig and pot up, such as violets, mints, or thyme. These mini-herb gardens grow happily in a bright windowsill, and they make fabulous gifts.
Cool-season edibles grown in containers need little watching because they don’t dry out fast like pots are prone to do in summer. Most pot-worthy spring veggies are fast growers that are here and gone quickly, so spring containers are not a long term commitment. When the weather turns hot and your cool-season edibles are harvested, you can plant your pots with warm-natured plants.