One gardener makes the case for picking your plants up
I remember the day I watched half of my tiny young lemon tree disappear down into the earth right in front of me, as though it was in quicksand. I stood incredulous. The quivering mounds of soil gave away the culprits. That was after they’d eaten so much of my rosemary’s root system that it croaked, even though I’d planted it in a gopher basket made of chicken wire.
“This is war!” is an expression many California gardeners are familiar with. One year, after harvesting half-eaten beets, I sought solutions from my neighbors and succeeded in drowning a gopher after sticking the garden hose down a hole. The creature came out the other end of its tunnel drenched, took one last gasp, and collapsed. I felt triumphant but a bit concerned about this new aggressive streak.
After years of trying several deterrents and listening to friends’ stories about how “the rabbits have eaten absolutely everything,” I’ve finally decided on a solution: hanging plants. Planting in hanging containers might be the easiest way to successfully grow edible plants while deterring deer, raccoons, rabbits, rodents, snails, slugs, and even soil diseases. Hanging gardens are also a good way to make the most of small yards and patios, plus some plants have colorful, fragrant flowers that will attract birds and butterflies at eye level.
You’ll enjoy meandering through your hanging garden, and it’s a good thing because these babies will need your daily attention. The soil will need to be watered more often because it’s exposed to more air. Also, plants in these small confines will need liquid fertilizer, possibly every week, to get the best results.
Still, up for the challenge? Let’s get creative. Containers can be wire baskets with a sustainable liner such as coconut fiber or moss. Or, they can be a woven basket with a pot inside, or simply a naked plastic pot or a decorative ceramic one attached to a fence or wall. Some plants, such as tomatoes and tomatillos can be grown upside down, for easy picking, and to prevent bent stems. Ask your gardening store clerk to show you how to select appropriate containers. Then, add potting mix blended with compost. Choose hanging spots that offer leafy greens some shade every day and give Mediterranean herbs full sun. Use hooks outside to hang at a height that makes it easy to snip off leaves for dinner, or hang inside a sunroom or kitchen, near a window.
Plants that naturally trail and produce small food, such as cherry tomatoes, are ideal. Anything that doesn’t grow very tall might work. Keep in mind a plant’s fragrance. Smelling garlic at nose level doesn’t excite me as I walk through a garden. The same goes for anything that attracts bees, so I would avoid rosemary.
Beans (dwarf or vining)
Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, chard)
Peas, (their flowers are decorative)
Small peppers, (e.g. chili or some sweet peppers)
Tomatoes, (e.g. cherry, Roma, dwarf, or micro varieties)
Zucchini, (only if in a larger container, fertilized often, and picked before they grow too big)
Join a San Diego county gardening group on social media or check in with the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County.
Have you had success with a hanging edible garden? Let us know at email@example.com.
Almost anytime is a good time to garden in San Diego. Find more growing inspiration in Potter's Paradise originally published in the fall 2022 issue and How to Design an Entirely Edible Urban Backyard.
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