Compact cherry tomato varieties are suitable for patio containers or...

Compact cherry tomato varieties are suitable for patio containers or hanging baskets. Credit: Handout

I'm a fledgling gardener, and I'm hoping you might be able to help answer a few questions. I live in a condo, and the community does not the allow planting of fruits or vegetables in the community soil, so any planting I do would have to be potted on my deck in the back of my unit. The deck gets nice afternoon sun during the spring and summer months. Can you suggest a few fruits and/or vegetables that do well in the Northeast climate? My thoughts were to begin germinating the seeds indoors and transplanting them indoors and then to a much larger pot outside once the weather reaches a consistently warm enough temperature. - Blake H., Woodbury

I'm always happy to hear about new gardeners, and certainly always happy to help them. Your plan to plant fruits and vegetables in containers is a good one, and there are plenty of edibles that will thrive under those conditions. Situate containers where they'll receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight daily. You can move them around during the day, if necessary, to maximize exposure, so consider placing them on wheels.

You certainly can start seeds indoors as long as you have very sunny windowsills or fluorescent grow lights. When starting seeds, be sure to use a sterile, soilless potting mixture, and when transplanting incorporate fertilizer and any necessary amendments (lime for tomatoes, for instance) into the potting mix before you insert the plants into their outdoor containers.

You shouldn't need to transplant seedlings indoors if you don't start them too early. Check seed packets for appropriate timing, typically stated as a certain number of weeks before the average last frost or before the date when the danger of frost has passed. The average last frost date on Long Island is around April 15, but the danger of frost isn't considered over until a month later.

Plants growing in pots require more frequent watering and fertilizing than their in-ground counterparts, so be sure to monitor moisture levels at least once a day. Be sure containers have drain holes on the bottom to allow excess water to exit and avoid soggy roots.

Stick to plant varieties labeled "bush," "patio," "compact," "space saver" or "dwarf," and consider herbs, many of which can be brought inside at the end of the season for culinary use over the winter.

Vining plants like indeterminate tomatoes can be grown in containers, too, but you'll need to provide a stake or trellis and fasten vines as they grow. Cucumbers, pole beans and other climbers can be grown on supports, too, or situated near a deck railing on which they can climb effortlessly. You might even combine two different plants, like tomato and basil, in one container. Just be sure the plants you group together have the same sunlight, water and fertilizer requirements.

You can make the most of your limited space by replacing early-season plants like lettuce with summer crops like eggplants. Other plants that do well in containers include blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, chives, squash, spinach, radish, peppers, thyme, oregano, parsley, mint and rosemary.

Citrus trees, figs and some tropical fruits can be grown in containers, too, but need to be protected or brought indoors over the winter. Avoid potting stone fruit plants like peaches and nectarines, because their roots grow too quickly.

If you select the right plants and plan well, you can reap a surprisingly big harvest from potted plants growing on your deck.

I've had just about enough of this winter. Intellectually, I know that nothing would be growing in my garden anyway, but the snow just makes it seem worse, obstructing even the tiniest brown patch of soil that would offer at least a glimmer of hope to my off-season sensibilities.

Enter my stack of garden catalogs, for which I am grateful every year, but more so during this horrendous excuse for a season. We gardeners can clutch onto these glossy color bits of eye candy and savor the lights at the end of the tunnel they provide.

To that end, I'm asking you all to tell me about your favorite catalogs and which of their offerings you'd like to add to your garden this year. I'll compile the results and report back in an upcoming column, and I'll share some of my own, too. Send your e-mail to

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